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.

Two dimensional tessellations at the Curious Minds Club (St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, 10 January 2020)

In this new term at the Curious Minds Club we started our exploration of shapes, in two and three dimensions of space.

I gave the children a collection of wooden triangles, squares and hexagons. I asked them to make a regular, edge to edge tessellation for each shape. It didn’t take long for every child to find the solutions:

regular tessellations

I explained that each tessellation has a vertex notation. I started with the square tessellation, explaining that its notation is 4,4,4,4 (every vertex is surrounded by a shape with four edges i.e. a square). I asked the children to work out the notation for the other two tessellations. With a little help they were able to find the answers: 3,3,3,3,3,3 and 6,6,6.

We then moved on to the semi-regular tessellations, of which there are eight. I used the same wooden pieces and some pieces that I had to cut out of card (octagons and dodecagons) as they are not available in wood. I gave each child a different vertex notation (e.g. 3,6,3,6 to make the pattern in the top left corner below) and asked them to put the pieces in the right order. When I had checked they had got it right (or offered a bit of help) I encouraged each child to take more pieces and extend the pattern out in each direction. I then rotated the activity between the children so they all got to try as many of the eight tessellations as possible.

semi regular tessellations

Here are some examples of completed tessellations:

3,4,6,4 tessellation by a Year 4 girl:

Y4 girl tessellation 3 4 6 4

3,3,4,3,4 tessellation by a Year 6 boy:

Y6 boy tessellation 3 3 4 3 4

3,12,12 tessellation by a Year 6 girl:

Y6 girl tessellation 3 12 12

For our final activity I gave each child a sheet showing all eight semi-regular tessellations and a piece of mirror card, and asked them to find the reflection symmetry for each tessellation (some have more than one). I asked them to find the ‘odd one out’. One boy was successful in identifying that 3,3,3,3,6 has no reflection symmetry. I explained that this is because it is chiral i.e. there are two different versions of it: