Monday, August 27, 2012

Mathematical Weaving, Part 1: Young Children & Grid Games

Patrick Honner's Moebius Noodles guest post about mathematical weaving has been in the back of my head for over a month and a half.  Mathematical weaving employs one of my favorite making materials - colored paper! - and I thought it would be fun to try with my seven year old.  I know the rudiments of weaving, but I wasn't sure how to get started, so yesterday I played around to try and figure out a few things.  It was actually sort of challenging, but I landed on some solutions and new grid games, so I thought I'd share.

I'm not done with my exploration, but what I have discovered so far is a perfect little unit for young children.  I am imagining that the weaving and the games would be completed in an enjoyable collaboration between adult and child over the course of a day or two.

I started by experimenting with loose 1" strips of paper as the warp (vertical strips) but soon found that much too unwieldy for even my adult hands.  The pieces were not connected to each other so they slipped all over the place and I had to use a lot of tape to keep the weft (horizontal strips) connected to the warp, which wasn't ideal.  So, I searched for some advice on how others have made paper weavings.  A quick Google search and I found this video (which is cool, but still too persnickety for the young ones) and this video which, although the cutting is somewhat haphazard, led me to a solution for how to weave paper without tape...

I first decided that a 3/4" width for vertical and horizontal strips made a more pleasing final product to my eyes than 1".  To make the vertical strips I folded a piece of paper in half and used my paper cutter to cut 3/4" strips from folded edge to about 3/4" away from the open edges closest to me.  Essentially, I was creating a paper warp that was still basically one piece of paper.

As you can see, below, the horizontal strips weave in very nicely and don't need any glue or tape to keep them in place if you focus on pushing them gently, but snugly, downward.  For the young ones, at least, a basic over/under/over/under weave is challenging enough.  Using two (or more?) horizontal colors creates visual interest and perhaps even a conversation about the patterns you see: alternating colors both vertically, horizontally and diagonally.  You can also make a connection to odd and even numbers.  Yellow squares in the design show up 2nd, 4th, 6th... places.  Green squares are 1st, 3rd, 5th...

The minute I finished the piece I thought - A GRID!  It's a grid!  The Moebius Noodles blog is very inspirational and a great source of grid games (my favorite so far is Mr. Potato Head is Good at Math) and I always have grids at the back of my mind these days because of them!  Here are some of the ideas I came up with using a newly woven paper math and one of my favorite math manipulatives -- pennies!

Adult: Oh look!  There are three different colors of squares in our woven grid.  I've got some pennies -- I wonder if we could make a square by putting pennies down on only one of the colors?

Adult: That does look like a square. Let's count and see if there are the same number of little squares (yellow, blue, yellow, blue...) that make up each side?  There are!  How many little squares are there on each side?

Adult: But, wait! Look what happens when I push a corner penny in toward the center!  Yep, it lands on a green square!  Let's do it with the rest of the corners and see what we get.  Oh, lovely.  A rhombus.

Adult:  The corners on the rhombus are on the yellow squares.  I wonder what would happen if we pushed them one square toward the middle?  Ooooh, look!  We have another square.  Is it bigger or smaller than our first square?  Each side on our first square was six little squares long.  This square has sides that are...three little squares long.  Cool.

Another exploration:

Adult: Here's a little story about a tiny X who wanted to get bigger.  Can you help him figure out how to help the X get bigger?

Or, how about the tale of some square numbers who also wanted to get bigger?  What little kid doesn't want to grow up?

And, here's my favorite.  It's a 'let's make a rule' kind of game.  The first penny goes in the bottom left hand corner, and you start counting from there.  The first rule here (pennies) was two over, one up.  Each time you repeat the rule, you start counting from the last token on the grid.

You're probably wondering about the buttons?  Well, that's a different rule: one over, one up.  Isn't it cool how they overlap, but not always?  Kids can make up their own rules after a little modeling or you can challenge them to guess a rule you made up and keep it going. 

And then, of course, the final thing would be to leave the pennies and the paper grid mat out to explore at leisure. 

I have some more questions about how to facilitate Patrick Honner's activity with slightly older children (first and second grade-ish).  One of my thoughts is that there is a basic algorithm for weaving that is a combination of overs and ups.  The design in the picture at the top of this post starts on the first line (weaving right to left) as 'two over, one under'.  The next line is different: 'one over, two under' and then the next two lines are actually the inverse of the first two.  Since my seven year old is already a fairly competent weaver, I think giving her some examples of how different combinations of over/under interact with each other would be a good place to start.  I'm also curious whether my daughter would be interested in the mathematical modeling at this stage in the game.  She's still a do-first, map-it-second (maybe) kind of gal.

p.s. I've got a new Facebook page where I'll be sharing links to cool math activities I find and some other things I'm doing with math, making, dance and rhythm.  Hope to see you there!


  1. What an impressive collection of explorations!

    Not only have you created a number of fun activities that really mesh with the basic ideas of weaving, but you've wrapped them up in a great "How To" guide. I'm proud that my vague overview of mathematical weaving in some small way inspired such work!

    I've started to explore the math inherent in what I call "belt weavings"; you may find it of interest:

    Also, given your experience working with young children, I'd love your feedback on my "What Skills Should Children Learn?" post, if you are so inclined.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Patrick, I'm so glad you stopped by! I've been back to your Moebius Noodles post many times in the last few days. Every time I go back I learn something more. I just spent today trying out some new paper weaving ideas and am really excited about what I learned -- a new post coming soon. Thanks so much for putting your ideas out there for us all to learn from. :-)

  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome! This is so what I have been thinking about - maths and weaving, pattern etc.

    Thank you so much!



Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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