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In May 2000, Julie Gibbon volunteered to be the first person to try out the Mathghan project

 with no input from us, except the booklet we provided. This is her account.

Click on any of the pictures for an enlargement.

In rural Northumberland we are pretty good at spinning yarns so I couldn’t resist Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer’s request for volunteers to take knitting into the maths classroom. Barely a week after I had replied that I was ‘game’ for a maths and knitting project, a 2000g bag of wool arrived, along with 50 pairs of children’s knitting needles, courtesy of the yarn company King Cole. There was no turning back! An afghan had to be produced and there was no way I was going to do it all!

Year 6 at South Tynedale Middle School in Haltwhistle (the centre of Britain), just a couple of miles south of Hadrian’s Wall, was my target. Maths teacher Andrew Russell is used to my mad ideas and happily indulged me, saying I could have all of year 6 for the week after SATs exams. Headteacher Peter Woodward and the other year 6 maths teacher, Barry Brian, were both happy to let me loose with their students. Female members of staff were somewhat more bemused and thought I was quite mad. Year 11 were on study leave at the High School and so, with a bit of juggling and some favours from High School colleagues, I planned to join every year 6 maths lesson that week.

An extra teacher training day on the last day of term meant only 4 maths lessons in the week I had been allocated so, keen to start, I hijacked year 6 after a spelling test during SATs week. I introduced the project, showing one of Pat and Steve’s afghans called Equal Parts. They were impressed and enthusiastic to start preparation for the knitting task ahead. We worked on the maths of how many squares we would need, what size they would be and how much yarn we would need. The following week, we started knitting and designing. Everyone was keen to have a go. Everyone waited patiently for help. Lessons were full of fun, enthusiasm, enjoyment, concentration and satisfaction. Everyone was pleased with their efforts and everyone felt a great sense of achievement, especially the boys. Everyone helped everyone else. It was wonderful to see Liam confidently teach Mr Russell how to knit, when I had only just shown Liam what to do.

After the first lesson of knitting, I thought "what am I doing?" but by the last lesson, I was thinking "what a wonderful experience it had been". The whole of year 6 had worked together as a team and had pulled in classroom assistants, other teachers, mums and grannies. Even a grandad had helped out! I had heard girls and boys being despondent and other boys and girls offering help and encouragement and in every case it worked. I had heard students asking other students for help and help was sensitively given, regardless of the experience of those asking or, of those being asked.

It was a long ‘Numeracy Hour’, with a substantial (but interactive) introduction, a four lesson ‘main part’ and a plenary session. Here are some of the things the pupils thought they had learned during the project:-

lots about knitting

how to knit

to wrap up a ball of wool

to measure 15cm

to listen

how people make things by knitting

how to increase and decrease

how to change colours

how to use a camera


what an afghan is

how to knit a triangle

to work together


that it is easier working as a team rather than by yourself.

In summary, more than ¾ could knit after the project, whereas less than one third could knit beforehand. About half of them had sought help from a family member or friend outside school. Nobody thought they had done any maths during the week; but by the end of it, they had certainly learnt the difference between a rhombus and a square, the meaning of increase and decrease, practical aspects of measurement, products of 72, following a sequence of instructions, combinations of colours, reflection, rotations and patterns, Not to mention the teamwork, co-operation, sharing, concentration, listening, patience, communication, enthusiasm and achievement that took place.

Quotes of the project:

“It’s really easy”

“It’s brilliant doing things that seem boring”

(both from boys who had just learnt to knit)

And the afghan - well, there were 2 completed rhombuses and 3 completed squares by the end of the last lesson, along with many design sheets for ways to put them together. I have been promised many more squares for after half term. I will wait and see!