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MAR. 13, 2015

Patterns Everywhere!

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Jen Hilterman, Math Teacher

During the first day of math class I asked my students to define math. They quickly realized this was no easy feat. After 45 minutes of discussion, we had a number of ideas out there: a study of numbers, problem solving, a method to understand the world around us, and the study of patterns. This was also their first introduction to the idea that here the teachers do not just give them the answers. We have been speculating about the definition all this time.

Fast forward a month and a half to patterns cornerstone day 2015. After burning through several back up plans due to new policies and impossible weather, we finally ended up having a school day out in Pisgah Forest! Everyone was stoked after wrestling with cabin fever for weeks despite our affectionately termed “snab” day where we built snow creatures and went “penguin sledding” using trash bags. The announcement of patterns day was made via a flash mob at lunch on Thursday. I informed the students to be prepared to be out for the whole day… in the snow. I sat next to Ellis during breakfast on Friday, and he asked me what to expect for this cornerstone day. I simply replied, “The only advice I would give you is to free all your senses and be on the lookout for patterns everywhere!”

We started the day with a few dance patterns out on cabin 7 field led by our fearless craft and music teacher, Jess. After one of the dances, we circled up to see the pattern we had made in the snow. One of my students exclaimed, “It’s an ellipse!” Several students chimed in with more details since we had just learned about how to graph these in math class. Jess pointed out that this is exactly what cornerstone days (and all classes) at OA are meant to do. Students make all sorts of cross-curricular connections. Today math and music and craft and philosophy would all be connected.


After creating masterful hexagonal patterns, we loaded the buses and headed out into the forest for the rest of the day. I led an activity looking at different length pendulums and sinusoidal graphs, Laura took the students on a tour of fractals found in snow, trees, and shrubs, and Franklin led the students in a philosophical excursion of the mind. When we had enough time to go explore and look for patterns on our own, we came back together for our final lesson about the Fibonacci sequence. We explored how our bodies display the Fibonacci sequence just as many other things do in nature, art, music, and architecture. Incredible! With the final hike back to the buses we found many things that are modeled by the Fibonacci sequence for the purpose of functionality and supreme beauty. Richard P. Feynman, an American physicist, says, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” We certainly saw this under the blue skies and warm sun out in Pisgah Forest. We ended the day by talking about what would define a pattern. Interestingly, the discussion that began on the first day of classes came full circle when one students suggested that a pattern can be defined by math. What do you think?