One snowy January day, I asked a classroom of college students to tell me the first word that came to mind when they thought about mathematics. The top two words were “calculation” and “equation.”
When I asked a room of professional mathematicians the same question, neither of those words were mentioned; instead, they offered phrases like “critical thinking” and “problem-solving.”
This is unfortunately common. What professional mathematicians think of as mathematics is entirely different from what the general population thinks of as mathematics. When so many describe mathematics as synonymous with calculation, it’s no wonder we hear “I hate math” so often.
So I set out to solve this problem in a somewhat unconventional way. I decided to offer a class called “The Mathematics of Knitting” at my institution, Carthage College. In it, I chose to eliminate pencil, paper, calculator (gasp) and textbook from the classroom completely. Instead, we talked, used our hands, drew pictures and played with everything from beach balls to measuring tapes. For homework, we reflected by blogging. And of course, we knit.