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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Sixth Annual Fractal Fair

You’re familiar with the fact that high-school students often display their creativity in the fields of art, music, and theatre, and everyone has heard of science fairs, but similar opportunities in mathematics are all too rare. Today we held the Sixth Annual Fractal Fair at Weston High School. Here was the description I had written for the morning announcements:
Come see the creative projects of 60 students at the sixth annual Fractal Fair on Friday, February 29! It will be held in the High School Library (including the Library Computer Lab) from 9:15 to 1:15, which is most of Blocks B, D, and H. Learn about models of 3-D fractals, the creation of special effects in movies, fractals in science, fractal music (with original compositions!), the fractal structure of plants, fractal movies, the fractal dimension of coastlines, the creation of forests, a card game with fractal images, and other applications of fractals in mathematics, science, and art.
The students’ projects definitely met expectations, in terms of both creativity and mathematics. Almost all of the participants had had to learn material that was new to them, in order to extend what they learned in class, and all of them had to organize and present their knowledge in a manner that would make sense to adults and students who knew nothing about fractals. This year, for whatever reason, there was very little about the Mandelbrot Set; most of the projects investigated fascinating connections with chemistry, biology, physics, geology, music, and art. Very impressive work!

The only downside was that we didn’t get a large enough audience. About eight parents attended, and maybe a dozen teachers or administrators, and (I would estimate) approximately 50 students in addition to the 60 participants, but we should have had more. There were several dozen students working in the library during the event, including some who had exhibited last year, some who have just been studying fractals in non-participating math classes, and some who will be studying fractals last year — but I was quite unsuccessful at persuading more than a handful to look at the posters and computer presentations. They were all too intently studying! I suppose that says something about Weston, but couldn’t they have taken 15 minutes out of their studying to see what their fellow students have accomplished?

On a related matter, I will also have to write a follow-up post about issues arising among competitive students when creating products in groups of two and three. But I first have to figure out what I can say in a public forum.

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