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Winston-Salem students ‘triangulate’ new NC record

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A new state record was set here Friday.

Students from the Kennedy High School, Carter High School and Career Center campus created North Carolina’s largest Fractal Trianglethon.

And yes, that’s a real thing.

The record in unofficial until it’s verified by the Fractal Foundation (yes, that’s real too), but it’s expected that the 2,187 triangles laid out across Kennedy’s gym floor will be the largest fractal triangle constructed in the state.

Haven’t heard of a fractal?

You’ve certainly seen one – many, actually. You’ve probably got one in your pocket (they’re used in most smartphones). You’re even made of them: Fractals make up your lungs and blood system.

A fractal is mathematical set that displays self-similar patterns. Basically, it’s a detailed pattern that repeats itself on different scales. So as you zoom in or out on a fractal, it will continue to look the same, repeating the same pattern. Fractals are also the geometry of nature, said Jane Hudgins, AP calculus teacher at the Career Center. Fractals can be found everywhere in nature, from the shapes of mountains and clouds to the leaves of a fern.

Real world lesson

Hundreds of students from the three schools on the Kennedy campus built a specific fractal Friday: Sierpinski’s triangle. The fixed set of repeating triangles is named for Polish mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski, who identified the pattern in 1915. Math and art students at each school decorated paper versions of a single Sierpinski triangle, which were then laid out across the gym floor in larger and larger repetitions of the same pattern.

Hudgins said the point was to get students interested in math outside of the classroom. It worked out well that Sierpinski was born on March 14, a day when math is already celebrated across the United States.

March 14 is “Pi Day,” when math and dessert enthusiasts join ranks to recognize the mathematical constant Pi. Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is a never-ending decimal but it’s often represented by its first three digits, 3.14.

For a project aimed at getting high-school students excited about math, the Trianglethon seemed to be working. After putting in the time to decorate the triangles in class and at home, students were invested in seeing the project come to fruition.

“We’ve done so much leading up to it, I can’t wait to see the finished product,” said Rosanna Stewart, a Mount Tabor senior and one of Hudgins’ calculus students. Stewart said she colored about 40 triangles for the project.

New math

Hudgins said she’s especially happy to see students interacting with fractals because they’re a “new math.” Whereas most mathematical principles were developed centuries ago, fractal geometry wasn’t developed until the 1980s.

“This isn’t your grandpa’s geometry,” Hudgins said.

The project wasn’t limited to Hudgins 115 calculus students, though. It created an opportunity for students from all three schools on the campus to work together. James Allred’s art students at Kennedy designed hundreds of triangles in his classes and nearly every student at Carter contributed at least one.

The campuses aren’t totally insular: they share a cafeteria. But the Trianglethon might by the largest project students from all three schools have worked on together, Allred said.

The Career Center brings students from across the county to the campus, where they can take AP courses, career and technical education classes or other electives not offered at the home high schools. Kennedy is a magnet high school, focusing on career and technical education. It also has a small population of middle-school students who have been held back a grade and are trying to catch up. Carter High School serves exceptional children from across the county.

“Events that allow us to bring kids together from all three campuses are wonderful,” said Lee Childress, special education teacher at Carter. “It helps students to get to the diversity of the students and the abilities of the students.”

The Fractal Foundation, a nonprofit based in Albuquerque, will confirm the project for the North Carolina Fractal Trianglethon record. The foundation is currently working to set a new national record. In 2011, the foundation created the 8th order of the fractal triangle, made of 6,561 fractal triangles (three times larger than Friday’s project). The foundation is working on building the 9th order, which will take 19,683 triangles.

1 Comment

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