POTLATCH — Potlatch fourth graders are stitching their way toward mastering math concepts through a pair of activities typically reserved for home economics classes — baking and sewing.

During class Tuesday, students were busily sewing aprons from fabric they chose themselves, which they will wear during a yearly baking project that takes place in the spring.

Teacher Leigh Wilson said the two projects complement each other well — baking allows students to deal directly with math concepts, like how quantity corresponds with mass and volume, and sewing brings in more linear measurements like length, width and area.

She said this kind of instructional approach helps her to answer a question students commonly have about math: “When am I going to use this?”

“This is really project-based learning. We’re taking math concepts — measurement, fractions, multiplication — and putting it with industrial arts,” she said. “That is what project-based learning is — it’s not doing a bunch of pre-teaching, but it’s actually throwing out a task and saying, ‘How are you going to figure this out?’ ”

For the sewing component, Wilson said it quickly became apparent they would need more sewing machines. She said initially, a $750 grant from the Idaho CapEd Foundation was enough to purchase 12 machines. For her class of 41, this meant there were as many as five students sharing a machine, which was time-consuming and less engaging. Wilson said she applied for another grant from the Latah Community Foundation and was awarded $1,200, allowing her to purchase 20 additional machines.

With the help of volunteers, including parents, former teachers and community members, students have taken to the project with fervor. Many have already completed their own aprons and are now working on a second, which will become a holiday gift.

Student Connor Brown Eller selected a space-themed fabric for the two aprons he’s assembling, one of which will become a Christmas gift for his mother. He said his mom, Cynthia, first taught him to sew, and the space theme is a reference to her name — Cynthia is an epithet for the Roman and Greek goddesses of the moon. When asked whether wearing matching aprons with his mom was cool or dorky, he answered, “It’s awesome.”

“I started sewing at home actually — my mom’s a big sewer, she has four machines,” he said, acknowledging that, “the one at home’s bigger and more complicated and has more stuff.”

Debbie Dawes, who retired from teaching third grade in September, said the sewing machines the students work with are modulated to be safer; the needle can only go so fast and the distance between stitches is fixed — functions that are normally adjustable on more advanced machines.

Dawes said she helped organize volunteers for the project and actually wrote the application for the CapEd Foundation grant. As a lifelong seamstress herself, Dawes said there is a lot of value wrapped up in learning this skill.

“I’m a quilter myself, I’ve been sewing since age 5 — my children went through the high school when they had machines,” Dawes said. “So I think it’s important that kids know this skill and I happened to have some time. I wrote the grant proposal and when it got funded, then it was like, ‘All right, I’m in for a couple days of this.’ ”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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