Standard mathematics education that is embedded in symbol systems often fails to engage students, especially girls, by divorcing mathematics from real world contexts. This lack of engagement extends into truncated course taking and a potentially life-long avoidance of mathematics. This project will build on theories of learning that postulate that design experiences (i.e., embodied learning) can play a crucial role in the learning process alongside of more formalized construct learning. Specifically, the researchers will explore traditional women's crafting (knitting, crocheting, sewing, and quilting) to create models for mathematics learning using craft design and especially the process of fixing mistakes in physical contexts to teach basic mathematical concepts such as proportional reasoning, fractions, and geometry. The broader impact of this work lies in its potential to broaden participation in STEM activities and, later, careers for girls and women, highlighting both the everyday mathematics at play in traditional women's crafting communities as well as introducing middle school youth to new mathematical ideas. The goal is to design and identify tools, materials, and activities that can be leveraged in the long term to transform approaches to mathematics spanning both in- and out-of-school learning spaces.
The PIs plan to (1) conduct a series of cognitive and connective ethnographies of female crafting circles to theorize the connections between mathematics and traditional women's crafts; (2) develop key tools, materials (i.e., a set of new tangible manipulatives) and supporting activities with potentially high utility in teaching mathematics through design and embodied approaches to learning; and (3) field test these early prototypes with a range of youth (grades 5-9) to deepen understanding and provide the necessary foundations for the next stages of curriculum development and broader adoption. The core focus will be on highlighting new ways to engage students and educators in mathematical thinking through hands-on crafts, an approach that leverages a range of mathematical ideas to provide students with new tangible manipulatives as "objects-to-think-with" in mathematics education.