Anyone who has struggled to communicate with another person—or even worse, witnessed another person struggling to communicate with another person—has experienced (or witnessed) the linguistic phenomenon that people relate to words in many different ways. Words such as “palette,” “illicit,” or “please go get me a cup of coffee” are constantly confused, little to the fault of any artist, bank robber, or writing intern involved. But there are some words that are so confusing that they can hardly ever be used in conversation without immediately invoking panicked faces, nervous sweating, or frantic wikepedia surfing. “Fractal” is one such word, a “natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” 1 Dr. Caroyln Otto, from the Department of Mathematics, devotes an entire class period to the exploration this confusing topic, and describes the lesson plan in today’s issue of “Active Learning Activities.”
Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (6 pods with 4-6 students per pod)
Setup for the activity: The activity involved the definition of fractals. The students didn’t have any outside information about the topic beforehand. This was introduced during class.
How the activity unfolded in the classroom: At the beginning of class, each pod was given a list of questions to discuss. These questions included what is the definition of a fractal, how would we use them, and can you give an example of a fractal. After the students turned in a written summary of their thoughts, the class watched a PBS documentary on fractals.
After the activity: After the video, their summaries were returned and the pods were asked to type up a new summary on their Pod computers. I went around to each Pod to discuss their early answers and new answers. Each Pod emailed me a new summary.
Additional comments from the instructor: “The students were engaged at all stages of this activity. There was a lot of communication between the students and myself as well as attention to the film. The students were excited about the subject and many brought that excitement to the next days of class.”
Tip provided by Carolyn Otto
Framing provided by Jon Pumper