Back to NCTM San Diego: Humanistic Math

This is the summary of a presentation given at the 74th Annual NCTM Meeting, 25-28 April 1996, San Diego, CA.

Quilts - a useful item, visually appealing, steeped in history, and an integral part of our culture - can also be the jumping off point for many mathematical investigations: What kinds of symmetries are used in traditional designs; how can they be varied to make other related (more or less) symmetric designs; what shapes will tessellate to "cover" the quilt top' what kinds of iterations are used in quilt designs; scaling quilt patterns up or down; observing what new shapes emerge when various quilt blocks are put together. These are just a few of the many mathematical topics that can be explored by observing and designing quilts. Quilts have an aesthetic immediacy that draws in the viewer. They are fun and pleasing to look at. Many students will have had personal experience with them by virtue of having them in their home (even the poorest people in American history made quilts from scraps and old clothing) and having their relatives (mainly women) make quilts. Quilts have the further advantage of being a topic that girls can relate to at least as well as boys, as well as being based in many different cultural traditions. This workshop will focus on ways that quilts can be used to begin investigations of mathematical topics such as symmetry, tiling, ratio and proportion, and iteration. Participants will do one in-depth, hands-on mathematical exploration during the workshop, followed by a discussion centering on how to use this interesting topic in the classroom so that the mathematics becomes central, students are assessed appropriately, and all students are included. Participants will be given a booklet that will contain the quilt-based math investigations that were done in the workshop and many more that we will not have time to pursue.Charlene Morrow (Mount Holyoke College, So. Hadley, MA)

Tom Bassarear (Keene State College, Keene, NH)

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