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Fish and Math

Teacher improved math results using Fishy as bait

“I’ll knit you a Fish Hat – and you pass your Math test!”

This winter, a lot of students at Richmond High in California can be spotted wearing a unique Fish hat. These hats are their rewards for hours of math study – and passing their CST exams proFISHiently. Math teacher (and avid knitter) Lisa Holmes tells about how Fish hats did what tutoring projects and correcting assignments couldn’t: motivating students to take mathematics more seriously. It’s a story about how crafts can bring a community together .


Not for sale
“One day I was on my way to class wearing my crazy fish hat just for fun. I ran into a couple of soccer players who declared, "Wow! That's raw!” One of them asked me to make him one. I told him that it takes a lot of time to knit a fish hat. "But I'll pay you!" he said. I told him that a hat like this is not for sale,” tells math teacher Lisa Holmes of Richmond High in California USA. “He would have to win one by scoring proficient or higher on the Mathematics CST. My hours knitting a fish hat would cost him some hours studying for this exam. That seemed like a fair exchange. “

Math teacher Lisa Holmes used fish hat as bait

How to motivate math students?
Richmond High School is an urban school in a city that has one of the highest crime rates in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like several urban high schools throughout the country, educators look for new ways improve the academic performance of their students, especially in Mathematics. Those results will show, a.o. in the CST Test, the California Standards Test (CST).

“To students this CST is not very important. It is not the Exit Exam, so they don’t need it to graduate. Nor does the CST get students into the college of their choice. It doesn’t even affect their grades. So our students don’t necessarily put forth their best effort,” Lisa Holmes says.
That attitude doesn’t please teachers and school board at all. To the school the results of this test are very important. It does affect a School’s Average Yearly Progress (AYP) and its Academic Performance Index (API) and consequently its funding. So every year teachers and educators put a lot of effort in motivating teenagers to score proficient or higher on the CST.
They do so by developing tutoring programs and correcting assignments. Also match coaches are hired to help improving the academic performance of the students. But none of these efforts really motivate students to take their mathematics more seriously. What would?

Full Blown Fishy project
“ I wanted to come up with a new and different solution; one that would get the students on board. I thought about this constantly. The deal I made with one of the soccer players rang a bell, ” Lisa says. “I told my knitting group, the East Bay Knitters about it. Before I knew, these fabulous women offered to knit some more fish hats, so we could turn this isolated deal into a full blown project. A project with a name, Pro-FISH-iency campaign.”

The knitters estimated that they could produce about 30 hats. So they decided to limit their prizes to geometry students. But soon the news about this project spread. Ellen Graves, the owner of yarn shop K2tog in Albany, expanded the project to the Richmond knitting community at large. In the K2tog newsletter she asked knitters to join in. The knitting community really got into this and a new goal was set. 84 Hats were to be knit, to encourage all student to pass the CST.
Students could even decide on the colors of their personal Fishy. They would color in a fish pattern and sign a contract stating that they would put the same amount of time in their math studies as the knitter in knitting a fish hat. Knitters would select one of the colored patterns and write some encouraging words for that particular student.

Fish Count
“As the hats started rolling in, we began a "Fish Count" in the shop window. Fifty down, 34 to go…” yarn shop owner Ellen Graves says. “The shop became more colorful then ever. At first, fish hats were hanging from the ceiling and were placed on walls throughout the shop. As the number of fish hats increased, we created a wall of fish. K2tog employee Emily was put in charge of this display.”

Fish Display at K2tog

This autumn a special party, Richmond High School’s first Math CST ProFISHiency Celebration, was organized to hand over the fish hats to the students who succesfully passed their CST. It was a tribute to the students and the knitters who put in so much effort. A lot of knitters met with ‘their’ students at this celebration.
“The students were very excited about receiving their fish hats. As we called their names, you could see the anticipation on their faces as they eagerly awaited their turn to select their unique awards. The following day was fun. Several “fishes” were spotted on campus. “ Lisa says.


Message of perserverance
This is not where the story ends. Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors contact Lisa Holmes to find out how they too can ‘score’ their own fish hat. She tells them they have a chance to win a fish hat next spring, as new fish hats will be knitted for them.

“The hats are a hot commodity, and that’s what I had hoped for. Its message of perserverance, strength and community touches both students and knitters in a way that only Arts and Crafts can. Thanks to the creativity of all those who participated in the celebration this year and to those planning to participate in the next one, I expect to see even greater numbers of students achieving a score of proficient or higher on the next Mathematics CST.”

This article is an adaptation of the article match teacher Lisa Holmes wrote about it herself. Click to read the  Original article .   






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