Join students Sophie, Tomás, Emma, and Marcus during Fifth Period! This STEM comic strip chronicles the exciting and often hilarious adventures of a close-knit group of four friends as they learn about science, technology, engineering, and math from their kooky, inspiring, off-the-wall science teacher, Mr. Kepler. When they're not in class, these kids love to explore the vast world of STEM on their own, launching weather balloons, programming computer games, and cataloging insects, sometimes with unpredictable and highly entertaining results!
Check back on the first and third Friday of every month for a new Fifth Period strip!
Marcus’s Perfect Mess
Welcome back to Fifth Period, everyone! Summer vacation is over, and the gang is ready to get back to school. Poor Marcus, though—looks like he’s got a lot to take care of first. It’s hard to imagine there’s anything interesting about a bedroom with a big ol’ random mess.
Or…COULD there be something interesting in all the randomness? Is there something that lies beneath the mess? (Besides, you know, dirty socks…) To find out, we can look at nature, which is like the biggest exercise in randomness ever—and YET, amazing patterns pop up everywhere. Ever notice how the veins in a leaf branch off in a predictable and orderly fashion? Or, if you’ve ever been on a plane and had the chance to see a mountain range from up above, do you see how the mountains look smaller and smaller at the edges of the mountain range but still have the same shape as bigger mountains?
These are all examples of fractals, or patterns of shapes in which the individual shapes have the same characteristics as the whole dang pattern—even as they get smaller and smaller! What’s crazier is that we can use math to predict what these patterns will look like, even as they go on forever.
Try it yourself!
What fractals in nature do you think you’ve observed? Extra challenge: Do you think you can describe the pattern mathematically? (For example, the veins in a certain leaf might branch off in twos, and are half the length of the parent vein.) To learn more about fractals, see examples, or even make your own abstract ones, check out the Fractal Foundation.