Kente Weaving, Computer Algorithms and Creative Classroom Learning

Kente cloth has a very distinctive appearance, but it also has an almost infinite variety of colors and designs.

Below is a fascinating article I found online about how the design patterns in Kente cloth can be used to teach students about mathematical algorithms that are used in computer programming. Because I am a mathematician, this article naturally caught my eye. I have done many workshops and seminars with students at elementary schools, middle schools and high schools and I believe that a Kente loom can be an amazing medium for both developing creativity as well as enhancing students’ abilities to think in mathematical patterns. In this day and age of computer screens and constant digital chatter, working with one’s hands on a small Kente loom can facilitate a rare balance of left-brain analytical and right-brain creative integration, in a Zen-like mental state of transcendent awareness. I have found that students of all ages appreciate learning about the cultural aspects of Kente as well as seeing what they can create or do with their own hands.

As I often do, I would like to invite teachers, students, schools, churches, community groups, museums and cultural organizations to engage with Kente as both a personal as well as a cultural learning experience. I would love to talk with you about how we can organize a workshop, seminar or webinar that will fit your specific needs. Over the past year during the pandemic, I created the world’s first online Kente weaving course to introduce as many people as possible to the joy and artfulness of Kente. With my online course or through live seminars or online webinars, we can create Kente learning experiences for many people, regardless of age or circumstances and different groups and organizations.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your particular educational interests. You can email me at kwasister@gmail.com or call me at (202) 569-5153.

Teaching algorithms through kente cloth: a case for Culturally-Situated Educational Software

By Lindsay Poirier on May 21, 2012

For the past year, I have been participating in research on how software, cultural design, and creative production can be used to teach kids mathematics. There’s quite a bit there, so let me break it down.

The whole concept stemmed from the work of Dr. Ron Eglash, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Eglash’s work is centered on the idea that indigenous groups incorporate mathematical algorithms into their design work. This can be seen everywhere – transformational geometry in African cornrows, four-fold symmetry in Native American beadwork; there are even elements of rotation and trigonometry in Urban break-dancing.

The crafters of these artifacts may not label their work with math terms simply because they do not recognize it as math. However, the thought processes needed to create the designs are essentially the same as the thought process needed to solve any math problem. Crafters have an innate understanding of the mathematics behind their work; they need it in order to be able to construct their designs well.

The software that we develop simulates the mathematical thought process that goes into design, all while enhancing a student’s intrigue by relating it to their culture. It consists of different design tools, each representing a certain artifact from a region of the world. Students are challenged with virtually recreating the artifact by experimenting with values and positioning of objects on a grid. In doing so, they gain practice that helps them develop the instinctive mathematical thought process that goes into design work.

A recent focus of the research has been placed on kente cloth design in Ghana. Kente cloth weavers instinctively use certain algorithms to produce the geometric designs that you see in the cloth. Our goal is to simulate this algorithmic thinking in the learning software by having students enter coordinates and iteration values in order to place thread patterns on a grid. The students experiment with the different inputs, eventually producing their own virtual cloth.

In July, we will be traveling to Kumasi, Ghana for one month to test the software out with students in a local elementary school. We will also be interviewing kente cloth weavers to get a better understanding of how they develop their algorithms. During our time there, we are hoping to discover ways to improve the software – ways to make it more honestly depict kente cloth design and ways to better simulate the thought processes that go into it. Most importantly, though, we are hoping to gain feedback on how this approach to math education is benefiting student learning.

I joined this research group because I really appreciate this approach to delivering education through technology in developing countries. Rather than implanting educational software that has been useful in other parts of the world, it focuses on design in a culturally specific way. This makes learning a lot more meaningful for students. They can relate to it and understand why it’s important. At the same time, they develop instinctive mathematical thought processes that they may need in a career. I’m excited to see how it works out in the local setting.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our research, please feel free to email me at lindsay.poirier13@gmail.com.


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