June 15, 2019

Following a Pattern

After making a few more math play mats I returned to the other pattern I was working on. (By the way, surface crochet works great! So I set up an info/order page here.) The project requires making lots of squares and then eventually joining them together. Since I was going to be repeating the same pattern so many times (42!) I decided to write it on paper so I didn't have to pull the pattern up on a device every time I took out my yarn, and also so I could make it clearer.

These are the squares I've crocheted so far. Lots more to go!
The pattern is freely available from a well known site. Lots of people have used it. It's completely accurate, but it reads like this:

Rnd 6: Slip st in next dc, ch 4 (counts as dc, ch 1), * (dc, ch 3, dc) all in next ch-3 space, [ch 1, skip next dc, dc in next dc, ch 1, dc in next ch-1 space] twice **, [ch 1, dc in next ch-1 space, ch 1, skip next dc, dc in next dc] twice, ch 1; repeat from * around, end at **; ch 1, dc in next ch-1 space, ch 1, skip next dc, dc in next dc, ch 1, dc in next ch-1 space, ch 1; join in 3rd ch of ch-4.

Even if you don't know how to interpret ch as chain, dc as double crochet, and st as stitch (or what any of those look like as a series of loops on a hook), you can still see that there are parentheses, brackets, and asterisks to navigate what gets grouped and repeated. Do you know what that entire paragraph is saying? All the way around the entire square I'm supposed to alternate a tall stitch (dc) and a single loop (ch) that will create a space between the tall stitches. That's it! So I rewrote it as:

Rnd 6: Slip st in next dc, ch 4 (counts as dc, ch 1),
In each corner: (dc, ch 3, dc)
Around the edges: ch 1, skip next st, dc in next st or space

The original instructions aren't wrong. They tell me exactly what to do every step of the way. I don't mind brackets or asterisks in patterns in general, it's much easier to be told to repeat something than it is to keep track of where I am on a long list of stitches. But my version is even easier to keep track of. Because I understand what I'm doing, I have easy to reference landmarks, and I just don't need that level of detail.

Why is the original so complicated? The previous round was worked in groups of 3. So when you're working groups of 2 into groups of 3 sometimes you land on a stitch in the middle of the group and sometimes you land on a space between the groups. Sometimes that matters, but here it really doesn't, I do the same steps to make my stitch either way and it just makes it easy to lose track of where I am when they specify the difference. Also, you don't start on the corner so you have to say "do this little bit of the side, then a corner, then a whole side, now repeat from the corner, but stop before you finish the last side because you already did a little bit of it at the beginning." My rewrite assumes you're looking at your square as a whole piece and can identify corners as well as deduce where to stop so you end up going around exactly once.

Why am I talking about crochet patterns on a math education blog? I'm sure you've already drawn parallels. It's tempting to give kids precise instructions that help them navigate every little difference they might encounter, that way they're sure to get it exactly right! But at what cost? Providing every little step means we lose track of the big picture. It's so easy to skip a step when we don't understand what it is we're trying to accomplish. And if this problem were a little different (in my case if I wanted to change the design to be a larger square or a rectangle) the hyper detailed instructions are useless and we have to start from scratch. When we're asking kids to follow a pattern, let's be sure to point out the landmarks as we go. Because that's what will help everyone navigate when they're on their own - which is absolutely my goal.

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