Saturday, October 22, 2016

Patterns in Nature

"Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics."
Dean Schlicter

It's amazing what you can see when you look at everything through a mathematical lens. 

On Friday one our of children came to school clutching a tiny snail in his hands. He was so excited to share it. "Look! It's so small and slimy!" he giggled as he opened his fingers and revealed it to his peers.  The children asked if we could put it in a clear glass aquarium so they could observe it for the day. 

In kindergarten this is not an uncommon request; children find many treasures in the outdoor world and bring them inside in order to explore them further. We are always finding natural artifacts in our classroom - rocks kept in the children's coat pockets, wild flowers stored in cubbies, pinecones and leaves strewn about the room. The old me - the teacher who I was before I fell in love with math - would have smiled at the children as they observed the snail and complimented the experience with literacy materials such as nonfiction books and drawing tools.

But on Friday this was not the case. Ever since my own mathematical mindset grew over the last few years, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask the children what math they noticed in the snail.

"'s a circle! I see circles!"

"There are swirls on it, like when we made swirly lines with the gems."

"It's little and other snails are big."

"We can see how far it goes with it's slimy trail."

"I see a pattern...the shell has colours on it."

Although there was interest in all ideas, the children focused mostly on the patterns on the snail's shell. I wondered if it was because we had recently explored patterning with loose parts.  

The children helped me create a 'Patterns in Nature' exploration area where the snail could be observed and other natural patterns could be investigated further.

I added close up photos of other animals so that the children could notice many interesting and different patterns...

It was fun guessing what animal owned the pattern and seeing the different ways we could describe what we saw, since many patterns were not neat and linear and had to be investigated further in order to be uncovered.

We also added some nonfiction books about shells and other patterns in nature. Photos of patterns from a recent trip to Fighting Island were also added to the centre so our SK children could reflect upon their experience on that trip and make connections to the current activity.

Some children spent time observing and drawing what they noticed while others just enjoyed watching the snail.

Later in the day we went outside for some play and the children began noticing some of the patterns occurring in the garden. I encouraged them to document what they saw using the class iPad.

Here are some of their findings. Can you guess what where these patterns might be found?

Many people wonder how children can engage in rich mathematics in an inquiry-based, child centred classroom. Although I also introduce ideas to children through interesting provocations and whole/small group lessons and activities, it's easy to see from the small act of a child bringing a snail to school how educators can cultivate a genuine interest in and appreciation of math in daily events. When one looks at the world through math-coloured glasses, you never know what you might discover! Math is everywhere!

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