Summer provides many opportunities to reconnect with nature. Did you know that, even on a nature walk, there is mathematics all around you? Grab your camera and put on your counting hat for a safari to find the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence.
The Fibonacci Sequence. The sequence of numbers named for Leonardo of Pisa (circa 1175-1250, later known as Fibonacci) was studied by Indian mathematicians as early as 200 BCE. The first two numbers in the sequence are 1 and 1. Each subsequent number is obtained by adding the last two numbers up to that point.
Fibonacci Scavenger Hunt. The numbers in the Fibonacci sequence occur surprisingly often in nature. The ideal nature walk for a Fibonacci scavenger hunt is one that includes a wide variety of plant life. As you wander along, be on the lookout for three types of Fibonacci finds:
For a fantastic and accessible deep dive into the mathematics behind spirals in nature, see Vi Hart’s three-part series of videos titled Doodling in Math Class: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant.
Honey Bees. If you spied honey bees on your nature walk, then you encountered another instance of the Fibonacci sequence that isn’t as visible as with plants. Male bees result from unfertilized eggs whereas female bees result from fertilized eggs. This makes the ancestor tree of any bee very interesting. In particular, if you count the number of bees in each generation of a male bee’s ancestors, starting with the male bee itself, you’ll discover the Fibonacci sequence! A great one-page illustration of this is available from University Child Development School. Have your kids re-create the ancestor tree and add on a couple more generations to verify that the Fibonacci sequence really does model this real-world phenomenon.
Whether in your garden at home or out among the redwoods, the Fibonacci sequence is never far from discovery if you have the inclination to stop, notice, and wonder. Enjoy your explorations.
About the author: Trisha Bergthold has been the middle school math teacher at Casa di Mir Montessori School since 2014. She holds a PhD in mathematics with emphases in curriculum and pedagogy. Prior to her work at Casa di Mir, she designed curriculum for kindergarten through college level. She also taught university-level mathematics courses for sixteen years.
A special thanks to teachers Tyler Bourcier and Pheroza Doshi for joining Trisha in a trial run of this activity, and to Tyler for taking the photographs.