A glimpse of a famous number sequence amongst shapes in two and three dimensions

I run an after school club at a primary school on the Isle of Wight. I call it the Curious Minds Club, and my purpose is to show the children that Maths is not just about numbers, it is also about shape and space. In the first term I introduced the children to topology and knot theory. This term we are exploring shapes in two and three dimensions of space.

The first activity was to use wooden pattern blocks to find the three shapes which tile a two dimensional plane by themselves. It didn’t take the children long to find out how to make the equilateral triangle, square and hexagon do this. Using the same blocks plus some shapes I cut out of heavy card (the octagon and dodecagon) I gave the children a vertex configuration for each of the eight semi-regular tessellations and asked them to fit the shapes together around the vertex, then extend out in all directions (given the limitations of the size of the table, the number of children competing for the number of tiles and the length of the session, we were unable to approach infinity).

Y6 girl tessellation 3 12 12
The 3,12,12 by a girl in Year 6.

Y6 boy tessellation 3 3 4 3 4
The 3,3,4,3,4 by a boy in Year 6.

Further sessions involved using Polydron Frameworks to build the Platonic Solids; next up are the Archimedean Solids. Between them the children made this set of Platonic Solids:

Set Platonic 31 Jan 2020

As part of my preparation for the sessions I drew this table of vertex configurations as I had not seen one elsewhere:

Table for blog

 

I then simplified my table by counting the number in each category:

2 dimensions 3 dimensions
Regular 3 5
Semi-regular 8 13

I thought it was interesting that if you add 3 + 5 you get the 8, and if you 5 + 8 you get the 13. It only took me a few seconds to realise I was looking at an early part of the Fibonacci sequence:

1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55

I was not expecting this link to the Fibonacci sequence, and I am not claiming it is very meaningful, but I put it out there for others to notice and perhaps enjoy.

It is worth noting (but not being too concerned) that of the 8 semi-regular tessellations in two dimensions, one (3,3,3,3,6) is chiral i.e. it exists in two different forms. Of the 13 Archimedean Solids, two are chiral – the Snub Cube and Snub Dodecahedron.

The faces of a Dodecahedron are pentagons. Linking each vertex inside produces a pentagram and a smaller pentagon. Repeating this process on the smaller pentagon produces lines, some of which can be traced to produce the two shapes of Roger Penrose’s P2 tiling, known as kite and dart. For both kite and dart, the ratio of the length of the long side to the length of the short side is Phi (the golden ratio). The area of the kite divided by the area of the dart is also Phi. Phi is in fact all over the pentagon. We can approximate to Phi by dividing a value in the Fibonacci sequence by the value preceding it (89/55 is appealing). In a future session I intend to ask the children to find the two shapes that make P2 inside a pentagon, then give them a set of P2 tiles and ask them to create their own aperiodic tiling.

pentagon-154320_1280

While the National Curriculum includes cubes and other three dimensional shapes in its geometry section there is no specific mention of the Platonic Solids, let alone the Archimedean Solids. Some of the children in my club knew they had made a triangle-based pyramid, but had no idea it is also called the Tetrahedron. I wanted to give the children an opportunity to use materials to explore shapes and space and hold these beautiful objects in their hands.

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