Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pennies, Fractals and Fifth Graders


What an incredible day we had at St. Mike's last Friday. Having seen the "Penny Arcade" in the local media, Joni Pecor, one of the the fifth grade teachers at Flynn Elementary School  in Burlington decided she wanted to bring the three fifth grade classes on a day-long  field trip to learn more. We started the day as a large group, 50 students and 10 adults, setting a focus for what they would be experiencing. I wanted to make sure that the students were learning the math embodied in the display and not just looking at pennies all day.

So the theme for the day was "seeing patterns and making connections". I had asked two incredible math teachers to help me out, Karyn Vogel, a BSD Math Coach, and Laura Sommariva,  a Colchester High School math teacher who had been a student in my grad maths course last semester.

Laura developed a one-hour class on fractals beginning with a virtual visit to the Fractal Foundation site. The students then went o to complete their own Sierpinski triangles using isometric graph paper or dividing up a a simple equilateral triangle on a piece of paper. They finished the activity making Sierpinski triangles out of pennies.

Karyn's class focused on number patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence and began with a Vi Hart video.  She then had them explore fir cones and various other natural things to explore the occurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in the natural world.

For my part, I held class in the hallway next to the "Penny Arcade" and explored the many different fractals and number patterns illustrated through the use of pennies stuck to the wall. The three fifth grade classes circulated around the three activities with a break in the morning and a break for lunch. We had planned for the students to spend their lunch break in the Teaching Gardens but a rainy day meant inside recess.

All in all it seems to have been a great day in which the students got to see how wonderfully creative and joyful learning about math can be. There were times we found it difficult to get the students to disengage from what they were doing so that they could move on.

Isn't that the way learning should be?

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