Math in a Basket: a second grade teacher sees the connections

As the 2015-2016 school year started to come to an end, it felt like licensed teachers began to get bombarded with reminders to make sure we had all the professional development we needed. If not, our school district had several last-minute courses to offer.

The problem for me was that I had no interest in taking any classes at the very end of the school year. I just wanted to focus on finishing out the school year with my sweet students. I did like the idea of developing more educational knowledge — once the school year came to an end.

So, I contacted Shelley Toon-Lindberg of “Arts in Education” to see what artsy thing she knew about. I wanted to find a way to bring the arts into our regular curriculum. She promptly added me to be the one selected teacher from Mid Valley to attend “Math in a Basket”!

One classroom elementary through high school teacher from every Hood River County School District building had the honor of being invited to participate in this class. We were supposed to combine math skills to weave a basket.

To be honest, I didn’t understand how weaving and math had much of a connection. But, I eagerly showed up for the one full day class. From the very start, I was extremely impressed.

The course was led by a couple of creative, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable women with Native American ties. The baskets had all sorts of math connections that I never considered until I was making a 6-by-6 basket with half-inch and quarter-inch reed. In addition to the school district staff, the class had just as many teaching artists in attendance.

As it turns out, the grant was to pay for each classroom teacher to get their own teaching artist and all the materials for each of our students to make their own basket. My assigned teaching artist was Chloe Height who conveniently spoke Spanish to help teach my dual-language students.

Before bringing basket weaving to the classroom, we had to learn the techniques ourselves. It turns out I was the student in the class who had huge learning challenges! I even went off to a private space a couple times to cry because it was so hard for me. But, I persevered making my basket with my young 7 and 8 year-old students in mind.

Before we knew it, it was time for a new school year. For me, that meant a bulging class of 30 students with a multitude of needs. In addition, we had a new math curriculum to get used to. I knew I would fit in “Math in a Basket” before the last day of school. However, my young students had to learn a few skills such as measurement before they could possibly be ready.

To add to the scheduling challenge, my assigned teaching artist loves to travel and is busy with her own work. We settled on having my students make their baskets on the last week of school. Miss Chloe opted to start all 30 baskets for my young students, both to save time and any potential young tears.

From the moment Chloe entered my classroom, I was impressed! She calmly and clearly explained the weaving process with the utmost professionalism and respect. There was a moment when I stepped back and was in awe at how my huge class of young students were handling “Math in a Basket” much better than I had the summer before.

I credit that to the amazing skills of our teaching artist, Miss Chloe.

Sophie Whitehead teaches at Mid Valley Elementary. Shelley Toon Lindberg of Arts in Education in the Gorge writes: “Math in a Basket is a program of Dramatic Results, an LA based non profit. Arts in Education of the Gorge contracted with them to provide professional development for teachers and our teaching artists through a grant from the Miller Foundation. This year AIEG received an Arts Learning grant from the Oregon Arts Commission to fund in school residencies with our teaching artists to provide Math in a Basket opportunities for students. Sophie’s class was one of the classrooms we served.”

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