Creating tesselations with 6th graders and Geometer’s Sketchpad

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Katie Hildebrandt (6th grade math teacher) and I just finished a 2-day unit on Tessellations using Geometer’s Sketchpad to rotate an equilateral triangle and translate a parallelogram. I can’t praise Geometer’s Sketchpad (sometimes shortened to Geo Sketchpad, GSP, or simply Sketchpad) enough. It is one of the few pieces of educational software out there that is entirely constructivist. You can actually learn math by using GSP. Just like classical Euclidean Geomtetry breaks down everything in the world to points, lines, and planes, so does GSP; You can quickly learn to construct, animate, and measure a range of sketches, from the simple to the complex.

In this brief unit, we verbally discussed how a vector is a geometric object (in this case, a segment) that has both a direction and distance. They notice the “di” in the beginning of each word. I also tell them that translating is the same as sliding, and both words have an “sl”. We talked about angles of rotation, indications of symmetry, interior angles of a triangle, and reinforced vocabulary: equiangular, equilateral, congruent, parallel lines, etc.

I always start off by showing them works by M.C. Escher. On the site, there is a link to a gallery of his symmetry drawings. I marvel at how Escher painstakingly drew his incredibly intricate and fascinating tesselations component by component. I imagine his pile of pencil stubs and eraser shavings, and reinforce for the kids how we can create infinite variations with GSP in a matter of seconds by clicking and dragging.

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I posted something about last year’s activity here.

There is a great PDF with multiple activities put out by Key Curriculum Press (@keypress) embedded below or you can click here to download it. We use pages 7-8 for the translation activity and pages 9-10 for the rotation activity.

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