Thursday, April 21, 2011

Math At the Arboretum

This past Tuesday we finally joined other homeschoolers for a Math Trek quest. It's a weekly math adventure for homeschoolers of all ages. The idea seems simple - we go out looking for math and when we see it, we take a picture of it.

The reality proved more difficult, but also way more fun. This week's Trek was at the NCSU Arboretum. It's just minutes from our house, but the last time we went there was well over a year ago. And M hated it back then. He simply couldn't get out of there soon enough. This time, however, everything was different. First, he loudly proclaimed that he loved it there and that the garden was just so very beautiful. Then he said that we should stay there for a long-long time. And so we did, for almost 3 hours.

But back to the math part of it. We were all given printouts with scavenger hunt-style math clues. There were lots of things to look for - spirals, Fibonacci sequence, right triangles, examples of infinite sequences, polygons, Platonic solids, boundaries, simple machines, and representations or models of the Universe, among other things. Not all Quests are this intense, but this was a Super Quest.

Of course, since M is only 4, I had to limit the quest to a few of the simpler concepts. And so we walked around the Arboretum, oohing and aahing over all the beautiful plants and exploring all the little pathways and nooks and crannies of the gardens. And while we were at it, we kept our eyes open and the camera ready for great math discoveries.

One of the first things we found was an example of a simple machine, a lever in our case. There were many more examples later on 'cause that particular day a group of volunteers was busy with landscaping chores, shovelling mulch and carting it off in wheelbarrows.

This was M's independent discovery. He noticed this one rock that was red (the rest were whitish-grey) and said that it was obviously a Martian rock.

Later on we came across a beautiful spiral path...

... and a long and mysterious-looking infinite sequence with a limit (a tree tunnel). So we ran along its entire length.

We stopped at a small pond with koi fish and frogs and watched them. M wanted to catch fish, but I had to explain that these are not for catching. So he just sat there looking for the largest and the smallest of them for a while.Another unexpected zomatical (zoologically-mathematical) find was this little lizard that we spotted. I mentioned how both sides of the lizard's body were symmetrical and we talked a bit about this lizard's line of symmetry.

Then we walked around some more just enjoying the gardens. And then it was time to go back to where we started - to another koi pond with a big waterfall. And so we found another one of the clues - the boundary between two states of matter (in this case - solid and liquid).

When the rest of the trekkers all got back, there was a short discussion of the trek and then we all made a right-angle triangle (since I guess none could be found in the arboretum).

How much of this all stuck with M? Ok, the Martian rock and the spirals did, but the rest - I'm not sure. But you know, it's ok. This was our first Math Trek outing and we both loved it. The main idea was to discover all the beautiful things around us and to not be afraid of connecting them with mathematical concepts. Who knew math could be this relaxing!

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