Welcome back to our monthly series bringing you STEAM activities to do at home or with your troops.
March can be a tricky month, is it Winter? No, Spring, wait, it’s Winter again! We have an activity for you to bring some order to the randomness of March through math and art.
A tessellation is a pattern of flat shapes that fit together so that there are no gaps. I’m sure you’ve seen them before but maybe didn’t realize it. Here are a couple examples from nature.
Take a look at the snake’s skin and you will see a collection of scales that fit together like puzzle pieces.
The veins on a dragonfly’s wings also outline an irregular puzzle-like collection clear cells.
The honeycomb cells built by bees also fit together very regularly. They are all the same size and shape.
All these natural patterns can be modeled with a mathematic technique known as a Voroni Tessellation. Feel free to research that more. Here we are just going to talk about the math behind the basic definition of tessellation.
Math gets a bad reputation sometimes, but I love it and even if you don’t love it you can have fun with it. Here are three reasons why…
- A girl who tries to solve a math problem quickly learns that she needs to follow a specific series of steps without making a mistake. If there is an error, she will learn to trouble shoot, and try it again until she gets it correct. This is an important lesson for our daily lives, where we do a lot of stuff that can be improved and corrected for efficiency and productivity.
- Math helps produce problem solving skills that will assist in real life situations and arriving at logical solutions. Think of the dreaded “word problems”, I know we all groaned when our teachers gave us one, but they are the problems that apply most to real live situations.
- Math teaches us important skills that we use every single day, even if we don’t realize it. An example: fractions are used while reading road signs that tell us the distance we still have to go to our destination. Being good with numbers makes telling time much easier. Percentages help us when reading nutrition labels or shopping discounts.
What if I’m not an expert?
We have all heard “I’m not a math person.” We are all math people, it is around us everywhere, you don’t have to be an expert/genius to be able to get girls interested, or at least accepting of math.
First, we don’t want anyone to feel forced into math, we want to show the girls how math is connected to our daily lives. This is not school, they are not being graded!
Second, focus on the other things we learn through math. Share with your girls that it will create opportunities for cooperation, it will be a change to struggle and succeed, and that it is ok to not get it right the first time, very rarely do we get things correct the first time.
Also, remind the girls that math is like a language and easier to use once you learn the words.
How do I get started?
So the first step in starting is to make sure to do this activity yourself before doing it with the girls. There are some detailed parts that you will want to have tried before teaching the girls, lining up the sides to tape and such, you will recognize them. If you google “Tesselations for Kids” images you will see many more examples and inspiration.
Along these lines, if you are working with younger girls it will be handy to have extra adult hands around to help.
Once you have the girls in front of you, do not tell them they are going to be doing Math, or you will get eye rolls and groans. Instead, lead with “we are doing Art!!!!” And then mention the math in the art. Patterns, angles, spacing are all art and math terms.
Daisy: Outdoor Art Maker – Step 1, See the colors of nature
Brownie: Outdoor Art Creator – Step 1: Find art ideas outdoors and Step 2: Make something
Junior: Outdoor Art Explorer – Step 1: Explore outdoor art and Step 2: Make something
Cadette: Outdoor Art Apprentice – Step 1: Explore outdoor art and Step 2: Make something
Senior: Outdoor Art Expert – Step 1: Explore outdoor art and Step 2: Make something
Ambassador: Outdoor Art Master – Step 1: Explore outdoor art and Step 2: Make something
What to say when you start the activity: Tessellation is a big word for fitting shapes together so there are no gaps between the shapes and none of the shapes overlap. Think of a jigsaw puzzle, tiles in your bathroom or a brick wall. There is a bit of math involved even if not obvious at first, it is all about the angles.
Tetris is a good example of tessellation, fitting shapes together with no gaps. Other places you will see tessellation is in the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher and in Islamic art, the Alhambra Palace in Spain.
Tessellation has one important rule: whenever lines meet, the angles have to add up to 360 degrees. Back to the Tetris example, it works because the corners on all the shapes are 90 degrees so when the four corners meet you end up with no spaces, 360 degrees. This also works with other shapes, equilateral triangles (60-degree corners) and hexagons (120-degree corners.)
We will be designing a translation tessellation, this can be thought of as sliding the shape along a plane, creating the repeating pattern. Follow the steps and see what you can imagine.
Step Four: Optional
Now you have a template, you can use it as is or trace it onto a heavier piece of paper like card stock or cereal box.
How can changing the colors change your pattern? How did you work through your challenges working with the template?
Congratulations you did it! You deserve a snack, an edible tessellation!
There are so many more STEAM projects out there and if you have a favorite or a new topic you’d like to see please let us know in the comments.
Written by: The GSHPA Program Team