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Patterns in Nature

Peggy G. Welch
Jessamine County High School
2101 Wilmore Rd.
Nicholasville, KY 40356

Title: Patterns in Nature

Type of Entry: Project

Type of Activity: Hands-on activity
Group/Cooperative learning
Community outreach/off-site activity

Target audience : Biology
10th grade/4th grade

Essential Question:
What patterns can be found in nature that illustrate biological and mathematical concepts?

Background information :
This lesson was part of a math/science project centered around patterns in nature and was funded by an Appalachian Educational Laboratory grant. The grant paid for travel between the three schools, materials for research and the showcase. It involved fifty sophomore students who were all taking biology and geometry with the same two teachers for the last two hours of the day. It also involved two 4th grade classes, at different elementary schools. Project topics included: fractals, Fibonacci numbers, whale and butterfly migration patterns, whale identification, flower patterns, fingerprints, planetary alignment, fossils, human body proportions, spider webs, bee and wasp nests, etc.


  • September-develop and send applications to 4th grade teachers
  • October-choose two 4th grade classes; research topics; send list of topics to 4th grade teachers; 4th graders choose groups and topics
  • November-1st visit between sophomores and 4th graders
  • January-2nd visit:
  • March-3rd visit
  • May-showcase

Required of students :
Develop application
Choose two 4th grade classes
Research and teach topic
Organize project ideas and showcase

Lesson/activity Abstract:
This was a biology/geometry project involving interactions between 10th and 4th graders. It was funded by Appalachian Educational Laboratory. Students researched and developed a project which illustrated a pattern in nature that linked biology and geometry.

Materials Needed :
art supplies
computer software
reference books

Description of activity :
10th graders develop application and mail it to all 4th grade teachers
10th graders choose two 4th grade classes
1st visit: orientation, discuss topic and possible project ideas make materials lists
2nd visit: work on project
3rd visit: finish project
Showcase: display projects for other elementary classes, parents and school personnel
Evaluation: students and teachers

Method of Evaluation
High School students were assessed in two ways. The first set of assessments dealt with the students' ability to meet deadlines in a timely manner with fully completed work. The second method of assessment was an evaluation of their self-analysis. Each student was given a series of questions for reflection about the project. They were asked to detail specific content they had learned through the project, and they were also asked to assess the cooperative venture between high school and elementary students.

Elementary students gave an oral presentation of their project in their classroom and also at the showcase. Each elementary teacher also used the project to generate specific assignments which were graded. The elementary students also assessed the cooperative venture between high school and elementary students.

Cover letter sent with application

Mrs. Peggy Welch, biology teacher and Mr. Charles Beaman, geometry teacher, have embarked upon an unique adventure. They are integrating their disciplines around the theme of patterns in nature. This adventure is being funded by the Appalachian Educational Laboratory Tenth grade students have chosen a partner and a pattern to research. Examples of these patterns are fractals, insect life cycles, whale migrations, flower patterns, bee communication dances, moon and tide phases, and spider webs. Each student pair will interact with an adult mentor who is knowledgeable in their field of study. The high school students will then become the mentors of the fourth graders. The grant will provide transportation for the high school and fourth grade students to meet at each others' schools, along with transportation of the adult mentors. The culminating event will be a Math-Science Expo to be held in early Spring when students' research will be displayed. This Expo will generate ideas for science fair projects, mathematics portfolio entries, and future research projects. The grant provides money for materials for the Expo.

Two fourth grade classes will be selected by the high school students, using the application they developed. If you have any questions, feel free to call Mrs. Welch at 887-2421. Please take a risk and apply by Nov. 1. Notification of selection will be before Christmas break.

Sample of student-generated application form
  1. Teacher's name___________________________
  2. School's name____________________________
  3. How many students do you have?______Total girls____Total boys____
  4. Have your students ever worked on a project like this before? _____
  5. What is the age range of your students? ____

Give evidence to support your answers to the following questions:

  1. How do your students like to learn?

  2. Would your students like to work with high school students?

  3. Do your students like science and math? (Show an interest?)

  4. Would your students like to learn how math and science relate to each other?

  5. Do your students like videos, coloring, posters, games?

  6. How do you discipline their misbehavior?

  7. Does your class work well in groups?

  8. What are your students currently studying in math?

  9. What are your students currently studying in science?

Ahlgren, Andrew and Franz Halberg. Cycles of Nature: An Introduction to Biological Rhythms. National Science Teachers Assoc. Washington, DC. 1990.

Ahouse, Jeremy John. Fingerprinting (Teacher's Guide ) University of CA, Berkeley. 1987.

Biological Science: Patterns and Processes . Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. Dubuque, IA, 1986.

Briggs, John. Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos . Simon & Schuster. New York. 1992.Patterns in the Wild . National Wildlife Federation. Washington, DC. 1992

Brooks, Bruce. Nature by Design . Farrar Straus Girous. New York. 1991.

Crump, Reva. "Snowflake Science." The Science Teacher. Jan. 1994

Garland, Trudi Hammel. Fascinating Fibonaccis: Mystery and Magic in Numbers . Dale Seymour Publications, Palo Alto, CA. 1987.

Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science . Penguin Books. 1987.

Jones, M. Gail. " Biological Clocks." The Science Teacher. Mar. 1991.

Martin, Glen. "Killer Culture." Discover. Dec. 1991

Moore, Randy. "The Numbers of Life." The American Biology Teacher , Vol. 54, No.2
Feb. 1992.

Peitgen, Heinz-Otto and Hartmut Jürgens. Fractals for the Classroom: Strategic Activities Volume One. Springer-Verlag, New York. 1991.

Schattschneider, Doris and Wallace Walker. M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles . Pomegranate Artbooks, Inc. 1987.

Schmidt-Nielsen, Knut. Scaling: Why Is Animal Size So Important ? Cambridge Univ. Press. Cambridge. 1991.

Sylvestre, Jean-Pierre. Dolphins & Porpoises: A Worldwide Guide . Sterling Publish Co., Inc. New York. 1993.

Vogel, Steven. "Life in a Whirl." Discover . Aug. 1993.

Whale Adoption Project . International Wildlife Coalition. East Falmouth, MA.

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