Forget the beakers, test tubes and rock samples — a teacher in central Newfoundland just needs wool and needles to get her students excited about science.
Ruth Cameron, vice-principal of Indian River High in Springdale, started knitting wollen hats for her students in 2004. It was her way of rewarding students for taking more challenging courses at the school.
Sixteen years later, Cameron’s “science hats” are now a popular school tradition, but she says she had no idea her knitting project would become so popular with her students.
“I didn’t think it was going to be anything other than a one-off,” admitted Cameron. “But the feedback was just incredible and you could see the connection that they then had with each other and with me and with the school.”
An avid knitter, Cameron says it’s a big job every year but one she enjoys.
“I’ve always been a knitter.… My dad actually taught me, and my grandmother was a superb knitter. It’s something I’ve always done to relax.”
Over the years, the design and colours of the hats have changed. The students have now become collaborators, deciding the styles and patterns of these prized hats.
Often designs are tailor-made to the science class the hats are being made for. Cameron says she is open to whatever creative decisions the students make but she does have some limits.
No squid hats!
“The only one I’ve ever said no to is the squid hat with the great big long tentacles to come off,” said Cameron. “That’s just an immense time concept. I didn’t want to contribute to that particular fashion trend either.”
One of this year’s designs is an homage to the school’s Wildcats mascot. The hats feature the navy and grey school colours with a paw print on the front and an oversized pompom on top.
“I was a bit leery about the size of the pompom but apparently that is the cat’s meow, to have a giant pompom wobbling around on the top of your head,” said Cameron.
Previous designs included a chemistry hat with a water molecule pattern. The very first hat featured orange, green and blue wool, based on the colours of the textbook being used that year.
For the students, science hats are more than just free swag.
Science and math teacher Denika Saunders is a former student of Cameron’s and still has two science hats from 2005. Saunders says they’re much more than just hats.
“They are a special memory that students keep forever and a reminder of all the fun memories of being in Ms. Cameron’s class,” said Saunders. “She made learning science a whole lot of fun.”
Cameron says her handmade hats have become a way for her to help create memories for her students. They’re made with the hopes of igniting a passion for science and learning.
“It’s about making connections and relationships,” said Cameron. “Academics are important but you can’t do academics unless you have relationships with students.”
“If a hat does that … it makes absolutely everything so much better and so much easier.”