Get SMArt-Integrating Science, Art and Math
What exquisite lines…the symmetry is amazing…the colors are so vibrant…the pattern is so complex, yet, at the same time, simple and elegant.
One could be viewing a work of art or one of nature’s own amazing creations. You needn’t look far to see examples of 2, 3 and 5-fold symmetry throughout nature. Make a horizontal slice through an apple to reveal the star-like pattern at its core. Examine the stem of a butternut squash, again you’ll find five-fold symmetry. Sea star (starfish) arms are found in multiples of five. The flowers of dicot plants have five petals, while flowers from monocots have three petals or multiples thereof. Three bubbles joined together is a model of efficiency, as are beehives, and are related to one another through the hexagonal pattern they each form. Each snowflake with its exquisite crystalline structure is symmetrical and hexagonal.
Integrating science, art and math is a bit of a misnomer. Rather, the integration component is in recognizing the opportunities to present these as an integrated concept by demonstrating recurring patterns, shapes, and relationships that are fundamental to science. Science, Art and Math are intrinsically related to one another, and our role as educators is to facilitate those connections.
The Art & Science of Snowflakes
A familiar pre-school activity is to create winter scenes and room decorations replete with child-created snowflake art. There are many ways to create an artful snowflake…coffee filter cut-outs, glued together craft sticks and decorated paper snowflake templates to name a few. While it can be challenging for children to create symmetrical patterns on each branch of a snowflake, it is not heretical or unreasonable to provide your class with a “proper” six-branched snowflake template as a starting point for their creations.
One can argue that well it’s art after all, interpretive, impressionistic, creative, or derivative and therefore does not have to follow any guidelines or meet any rigorous scientific rules or standards. True, but the creation of snowflake art that is not at very least hexagonal in nature detracts from the inherent beauty of a snowflake. More importantly, if you have just completed or plan on exploring snowflakes with your class, a non-hex representation diminishes the value of your content.
Think about the kinds of pictures children draw of themselves. Generally speaking, they give themselves the requisite number of eyes, ears, arms, legs, etc.. Their drawings are a reflection of how they see themselves, based on a familiarity with the subject and, of course, what they can see.
Snowflake design and symmetry is unfamiliar territory. Even if a child has caught their share of snowflakes and observed the “coolo” patterns, in all likelihood they have never learned that those coolo patterns are an actual feature of snowflakes. There is a rule in writing, “show, don’t tell.” In science, the rule might be described as “show, tell and do.” Show your class snowflakes, catch snowflakes (climate permitting), count the number of branches, look at the variation in branch patterns, give them familiarity with the subject matter and they will never feel cheated in creating snowflakes with six branches, or insects with six legs and spiders with eight.
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