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Hats Off to the Hat Makers

By Chick Moorman


“Hey, I want to sew.”
“Can I stay after school and do that?”
“I had to come today so I could finish my hat.”

These words were spoken by seventh and eighth graders in Louisville, Kentucky. The students were part of a service-learning project conceived and implemented by math teacher Mary Beth Singleton.

A few years ago Mary Beth was searching for a service-learning project for her practical math class. She wanted a worthy project that would help students appreciate the beauty of serving others while experiencing real life applications of the mathematical concepts they were learning in class. That’s when she noticed the women at her church knitting hats for chemo patients. Being a veteran math teacher, she had no trouble putting two and two together and have it equal a sewing project.

With $2500 in grant money from the Nike Jordan Foundation she bought three sewing machines and supplies. She then launched the project designed to teach students math and the notion that no matter what your present circumstances you can always find places where you can give back. As Mary Beth explains, “I wanted these kids to know that you can always find people with more needs than you have.”

Mary Beth began this sewing project in two of her classes. The students, all boys, were in a supplemental, reinforcement math program that was an extension of their regular math classes.

Two boys began knitting caps. Since the initial cap makers seemed to be having so much fun, others wanted to join in. With only three sewing machines available for use at one time, multiple tasks were devised. Eventually, everyone would get a turn cutting, sewing, trimming, pinning, and printing messages on the caps.

During the course of the year, all students in the building had an opportunity to make hats for chemo patients that would later be delivered to eight sites throughout the state. During work time students constructed spreadsheets detailing expenses, products produced, and products delivered. They did cancer research via the Internet. Different size hats required a variety of measurements. Students figured circumferences and put them to use. They made and adjusted predictions. They researched fleece and cotton fabrics, purchased those deemed appropriate, and used them for construction. They planned, wrote, and produced a slide show presentation of the entire effort.

Mary Ann escorted the students, three at a time, during their planning periods so they could deliver their products personally and receive firsthand the appreciation and positive feedback. Thank-you notes were received from several parts of Indiana and Kentucky. Each note stressed the value of and appreciation for the students’ efforts.

Another Middle School teacher currently using chemotherapy in her effort to fight cancer wore one of the hats. Her presence was a constant reminder of good deeds being done and skills being put to use.

One student with a behavior disorder stopped choosing inappropriate behavior during the time he worked on hats. Mary Ann relates, “He wanted to be a part of this effort so badly that he didn’t get one discipline referral for 12 weeks.”

From September to May, 746 hats were constructed and delivered. Forty-three students participated, recording numbers that had to do with purchases, expenses, hours, delivery, miles, products, sizes, goals, predictions, and final tallies. Yes, Middle School students learned a lot about numbers through this service-learning project. And they also learned there is more to math than just numbers.

Hats off to the hat makers!