how I learned string figures beginning with the ten men figure

I was offered a job teaching the scientific method of inquiry to 10 and 11 year old gifted students in a Saturday program when I was 42 years old. I was a high school math teacher and had no experience with teaching this age group, so it came as a bit of a surprise at how fidgety they were, and how they needed to be active as they learned.

The second Saturday I performed the experiment of finding the octave scale by dividing a taut string into fractional parts with a knife edge as it is plucked. Placing the edge at the 1/2 mark gives the octave, at the 1/3 mark gives the fifth, etc.

and I was stuck with what to do for the next weekend’s class and went to browse a book store for ideas. I serendipitously chanced upon a copy of “String Figures: a study of cat’s cradle in many lands” by Caroline Furness Jayne. I bought the book and took it home and found within it the procedure for making ten men. I chanced to find a way to make permutations of the figure and had my curriculum for the balance of the term for my scientific methods of inquiry class.

The next year I convinced my high school principal that I should be allowed to teach a class of string figures for a term to struggling math students.

I taught this class for the next twenty years and not one of my students failed to become a past master at forming string figures, and they all began to make better progress in their other classes and to a person thanked me for showing them how to become better at everything they tried to do.

I offer this guided method for the interested student to learn string figures for themselves, and to share in the joy of their making, and in the concomitant enrichment of their ability to concentrate and to learn anything they set their minds to.

there are a series of lessons i have prepared for you listed in order in the accordion menu to the right. they are not always so easy to master, but they will lead you to a mastery of string figures based on the ten men figure I found in Jayne’s book. have fun as you go exploring!

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