EC Engages in an Exploration of the Fibonacci Sequence

1 Dec 2017
ByAkim St Omer

In an effort to make math more visible and get students and teachers to see it in a new (read: fun-filled) light, Ethical Culture organized a series of events last month around Fibonacci, a 13th-century Italian mathematician, and the famous mathematical sequence that bears his name.

On November 15, in a division-wide assembly featuring skits and musical performances, students learned about Fibonacci, also known as Leonardo of Pisa. Besides introducing the modern number system—consisting of Hindu-Arabic, rather than Roman, numerals—to the West, he studied what later came to be called the Fibonacci Sequence, a series of numbers in which each is the sum of the preceding two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so forth. These numbers occur repeatedly in the natural world, such as in the number of petals in a flower. The assembly got students thinking about the ways in which math is all around us and was followed by classroom activities that asked them where do they "see" math in the world.

"In thinking about a way to engage all ages at the school in a study of math, we thought celebrating Fibonacci would give us a broad range of hands-on math explorations that already connect to much of our K-5 curriculum," said EC assistant principal Faith Hunter. "You can discover the Fibonacci Sequence in nature, science, art, and music, allowing teachers independence and flexibility to come up with integrated projects."

Although Fibonacci Day falls on November 23 (or 11/23—can you guess why?), because of the Thanksgiving recess EC celebrated it on November 21. The excitement was palpable on the front steps of school that morning as arriving students and parents were greeted by large silver balloons in the form of several Fibonacci numbers. Throughout the day, students in kindergarten through fifth grade explored the Fibonacci Sequence in grade-appropriate activities.

For example, fifth graders in teacher Daniel Crawford's class, who are reading Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, discovered patterns related to the Fibonacci Sequence in the Dutch Master's paintings. Third graders made pine cone impressions in clay (the scales of pine cones run in spirals arranged in ratios determined by the Fibonacci Sequence), and here's video of Joan Singer's third-grade Spanish class singing about Fibonacci.

According to EC math specialist Samantha Resnik, "The goal of the day was not for students to become experts in Fibonacci or the sequence named after him. Rather, we wanted to inspire them to think like Fibonacci—to see math in the world around them. This was a day of building community around the belief that math is an integral part of understanding the world. Math is everywhere!"

Math specialist Becky Weintraub concurred: "It was great to hear math being talked about in the community. Students and faculty saw it in their surroundings, and the day sparked curiosity. We want to keep the conversation going and keep exploring the Fibonacci Sequence. After all, math is more than calculations. Math is beautiful and a part of our everyday world."