Friday, March 13, 2009

Pinecones are better at math than you are: (Cool Things I Never Learned In School, 2)


I'm still keeping track of the decline and fall of the once-proud, once-great Middleton (WI) School system. The newest update? The school was going to let students skip classes to go watch the girls' basketball team play in the state tournament -- but would still have classes for those students who did not want to watch.

The Boy wanted to go, and I told him he could go, but because he was missing physics, he'd have to do something extra to show me that he was learning physics -- because I, unlike the Middleton, WI, school district, am concerned about educating kids.

Then the Middleton, WI school district simply cancelled classes for the latter part of the day, letting kids out of school at 12:02 p.m. (Thank God they kept them there that extra two minutes.)

This is the best educators could come up with, then: The girls' basketball team is in the State tournament. Lots of kids want to watch them play. We want to support our team. Let's cancel school!

It apparently never occurred to them that they could hold the tournament after school and on weekends.

So to combat the continuing decline of the once-great Middleton, WI school system, I'm again presenting Cool Stuff I Never Learned In School. Schools may just be warehousing kids, but here at Thinking The Lions, I want to show people that learning is cool.

Learning is cool, especially, if it involves the Fibonacci numbers. A Fibonacci number is one that appears in a sequence obtained by adding the previous two numbers in the sequence. So it's:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3 (because 0 +1 =1, 1+1 = 2, 2+1=3, etc.) 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55... and so on.

What's cool about that? Besides it being an interesting way to occupy your mind while jogging, I mean?

Fibonacci sequences appear in nature: the Fibonacci sequence appears in crystals, in the structure of galaxies, and in the structure of a nautilus shell. Weirdly, sunflowers, pinecones, and pineapples grow in Fibonacci sequences: the heads of sunflowers grow in spirals of 21 and 34, or 34 and 55, or 55 and 89, or 89 and 144. Pinecones that have 8 spirals on one side invariably have 13 on the other, or 5 on one side, 8 on the other. Pineapples have 8 diagonals in one direction, and 13 in the other. All Fibonacci numbers, and if you're like me you're going to go find one of those things to check that out.

They do that in part because math describes the world around us -- it's not arbitrary, as I once believed, but a set of rules growing out of natural elements-- and in part because the world around us describes math. In this case, the Fibonacci numbers are related to fractions created by the angle in which seeds and coverings grow: seeds in a sunflower grow, and coverings on a pineapple grow, in such a manner as to have no wasted space. As each seed comes into a sunflower head, it is set at such an angle from the previous one as to make the most efficient use of space -- and that angle is dictated by the Fibonacci series.

In short: pineapples can do calculus.

I learned about this reading on my own. So:

School, 0; Reading on my own: 1.



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1 comment:

Court said...

I remember getting out of school when I was eight to watch our team win the championship. It only took twenty years to win it again (last year) but it was much funner when I was smaller. Maybe everything is?