I’ve had STEM on the brain a lot lately. (For those of you who haven’t yet become familiar with this acronym, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.) The library in which I work has fully embraced STEM programming, providing informal hands on science classes for students in Kindergarten through High School. I’m also privileged to be working on the YALSA STEM Task Force. At our library, we’ve done lots of traditional science experiments, held building clubs, and offered teens the chance to learn new technology. But in all this, I find myself asking, “Where’s the math?” I came up with an unexpected answer.

The single place I use math the most, other than basic household bills, is when I craft. That’s right – arts & crafts: here there be math. I am a self taught knitter, crocheter, quilter, sewer and more. I’ve even taught both adults and teens to knit and crochet in classes at my library. So I not only had to figure out a way this stuff made sense to me, but also how to translate it to others. From the simple math of measurements when sewing a garment, to more complex geometry with designing quilt patterns, I constantly am using the math I learned when in school.

I’ll be picking up my crochet hooks again in a few months for the sake of library programs. That also means that I just might be figuring out crazy crafter word problems. An example: I have a pattern that requires X length of yarn that is N in thickness. I actually have yarn that is M thickness and Y length per ball. How many balls of the yarn I have will I need to make the same item in the same size as my pattern? There’s so much going on here between using algebra to figure out unknowns & ratios of length to weight to determine if a yarn corresponds to a pattern.

So how does this all fit together with STEM & the library? Well, most of us do crafts at some time or another. While they may not all be as intricate as my example above, we still have to use measurements (how much stuff do we need), proportions (how much will each person use), and budgeting (how much will this event cost per person) before we implement the activity. My suggestion is that we talk to our participants about the math that goes on behind the scenes. I don’t think we’d gain anything by creating a formal math lesson out of a craft class. However, I do think we can make teens more aware of how math works in every part of their world if we mention in passing that, “It took longer than I expected to get this week’s craft ready. I had to cut 48 paper squares exactly 4 ‘½ inches square because I needed each final square to be 4 inches after accounting for the necessary ‘¼ inch to fold on each side,” or “I had to order supplies for this activity before I had a final count of people attending. Since I have a budget of $2 per participant, we won’t be able to use the extra supplies today, but will save them for another activity.” Let our patrons know that math doesn’t just live in their classrooms (or in the 510s!) but is all around them. The more math becomes an integrated part of everyday activities, the more we do to support the formal learning of our patrons.

Do you already have library programming that would support math education? Can you create some? Please share in the comments.

Here are a few sites I found that might be helpful:
Math Crafts
Yarn Calculator
Quiltbug Fabric Calculator
Measure Yourself for Fitting Clothing

Posted on behalf of Julia Driscoll, Member of the YALSA STEM Task Force

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

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