Example #40 Patterns and Wonder

What if learning about flowers led to wonder?

Amy wanted her students to not only master facts in her science class, but also experience moments of wonder at how it all fit together, and ask big questions about why.

“This is one of my favorite lessons! It never fails to amaze the students, and bring out those real ‘wow’ moments that we all hope for when a light gets switched on in a student’s understanding.

“I asked the students to bring in some flowers (I checked for allergies first!), but provided some myself for those who forgot or had little access to flowers. We then collected data, counting the number of sepals, petals, stamens, stigmas, and seeds. Their table of results is usually made up almost exclusively of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8.

“Then, I introduced the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (discovered by Indian mathematicans and made known in the West by a 13th-century Italian). When I gave them this string of numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, …), I got them to circle any in the sequence that also appeared on their results table. The students quickly recognized that their results were numbers from the Fibonacci sequence. That puzzled them! Then we looked at who Fibonacci was and his work, and students tried to work out how the sequence works (each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers).

“The next section of the lesson was deliberately very slow and reflective. We looked very closely at a dried sunflower seed head, because this is what inspired Fibonacci to discover his sequence of numbers (a close-up online photo works if a sunflower seed head isn’t available). I asked, ‘What did Fibonacci see that was so special?’ We spent a long time looking at the patterns the seeds make. Eventually, someone noticed that the seeds are in a spiral pattern—actually, two sets spiraling in different directions (clockwise and counterclockwise).

“The Fibonacci numbers related to the sunflower seed head were amazing. If you count the total number of seeds, it is a Fibonacci number; the number of clockwise spirals is a Fibonacci number; the number of counterclockwise spirals is the next Fibonacci number; the number of seeds in each spiral is a Fibonacci number. This realization was a very special moment. It inevitably lead to questions like, How did that happen, and why? We discussed that Fibonacci must have asked the same questions many centuries earlier. ‘What did he conclude?’ I asked. ‘Is it just an accident, or does it suggest, as Fibonacci believed, that there is a Creator with a plan and purpose for everything, even something as small as a seed?’ Students then went to see what they could find by looking closely at a pinecone or a pineapple.”

What's going on here?

Amy saw her science lesson as a way of highlighting the unity of knowledge, making space for attentiveness, wonder and praise, and stimulating her student's curiosity in relation to big questions.

She engaged learners in reflection through progressive discoveries and in approaching the world attentively, making connections, experiencing wonder and asking big questions of life, faith and values. (Fibonacci numbers and spirals in biology, stimulating questions).

She reshaped her practice by planning the timing of the various stages of discovery and the pace of each phase of the lesson, and by using natural objects, creating opportunities for insight and reflection (use of images/real sunflower seed heads, slow observation).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope, and love?

Christians put their faith in God the Creator. They believe that God created the world and all that is in it, though they may belive differently about how this was achieved. This single source of creation provides an underlying unity to knowledge. It also means that the created world can reflect something of its Creator in its design. The love of God for his world is reflected in the beauty and complexity of creation, and that includes the beauty of the mathmatical structure of much of creation.

What difference does it make?

This science lesson brought in an element of wonder by linking math and science. Other combinations can bring wonder; for example, math, art, and the golden ratio.

Where could we go from here?

This topic of study can be extended more deeply to look at the occurrence of spirals in nature. It can also be broadened to make connections with patterns in other elements in the science curriculum. Looking at this bigger picture raises questions about a Creator God, and students often reflect that it takes more faith to believe that such things as patterns in nature occur randomly, by accident, than to believe they result from the work of a Creator.

Digging deeper

The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It ends with “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). God is Creator first and last, and in between he sustains all that is (Psalm 65:9-13). For Christians, creation reflects the wisdom of God in its complexity and design ([6Psalm 104:24‑256]), and the universe responds in wonder and praise (Psalm 96:1).

Although beautiful and complex, the universe is not now as God created it. It is spoiled by sin, since God gave people the freedom to choose between right and wrong. However, the universe is still able to tell of a wise creator. It may be flawed, but it is not completely disfigured.

If the universe is so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? C. S Lewis

For the Christian and many others, the universe points to a Creator or Designer in some form.

I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Albert Einstein (First published as “What Life Means to Einstein,” Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929. Quoted in Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007], p. 386.)

Explore Similar Examples:

What if growing beans helped students see the interconnectedness of the world?
What if there were moments of wonder in chemistry?
What if music made students think about where creativity came from?
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1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was barren, with no form of life; it was under a roaring ocean covered with darkness. But the Spirit of God was moving over the water. 3God said, I command light to shine! And light started shining. 4God looked at the light and saw that it was good. He separated light from darkness 5and named the light Day and the darkness Night. Evening came and then morningthat was the first day. 6God said, I command a dome to separate the water above it from the water below it. 7And that's what happened. God made the dome 8and named it Sky. Evening came and then morningthat was the second day. 9God said, I command the water under the sky to come together in one place, so there will be dry ground. And that's what happened. 10God named the dry ground Land, and he named the water Sea. God looked at what he had done and saw that it was good. 11God said, I command the earth to produce all kinds of plants, including fruit trees and grain. And that's what happened. 12The earth produced all kinds of vegetation. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 13Evening came and then morningthat was the third day. 14God said, I command lights to appear in the sky and to separate day from night and to show the time for seasons, special days, and years. 15I command them to shine on the earth. And that's what happened. 16God made two powerful lights, the brighter one to rule the day and the other to rule the night. He also made the stars. 17Then God put these lights in the sky to shine on the earth, 18to rule day and night, and to separate light from darkness. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 19Evening came and then morningthat was the fourth day. 20God said, I command the sea to be full of living creatures, and I command birds to fly above the earth. 21So God made the giant sea monsters and all the living creatures that swim in the sea. He also made every kind of bird. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 22Then he gave the living creatures his blessinghe told the sea creatures to live everywhere in the sea and the birds to live everywhere on earth. 23Evening came and then morningthat was the fifth day. 24God said, I command the earth to give life to all kinds of tame animals, wild animals, and reptiles. And that's what happened. 25God made every one of them. Then he looked at what he had done, and it was good. 26God said, Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. We will let them rule the fish, the birds, and all other living creatures. 27So God created humans to be like himself; he made men and women. 28God gave them his blessing and said: Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth. 29I have provided all kinds of fruit and grain for you to eat. 30And I have given the green plants as food for everything else that breathes. These will be food for animals, both wild and tame, and for birds. 31God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good! Evening came and then morningthat was the sixth day.
1I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and so had the sea. 2Then I saw New Jerusalem, that holy city, coming down from God in heaven. It was like a bride dressed in her wedding gown and ready to meet her husband. 3I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God's home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. 4He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone for ever. 5Then the one sitting on the throne said: I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. My words are true and can be trusted. 6Everything is finished! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain to everyone who is thirsty. 7All who win the victory will be given these blessings. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 8But I will tell you what will happen to cowards and to everyone who is unfaithful or dirty-minded or who murders or is sexually immoral or uses witchcraft or worships idols or tells lies. They will be thrown into that lake of fire and burning sulphur. This is the second death. 9I saw one of the seven angels who had the bowls filled with the seven last terrible troubles. The angel came to me and said, Come on! I will show you the one who will be the bride and wife of the Lamb. 10Then with the help of the Spirit, he took me to the top of a very high mountain. There he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down from God in heaven. 11The glory of God made the city bright. It was dazzling and crystal clear like a precious jasper stone. 12The city had a high and thick wall with twelve gates, and each one of them was guarded by an angel. On each of the gates was written the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13Three of these gates were on the east, three were on the north, three more were on the south, and the other three were on the west. 14The city was built on twelve foundation stones. On each of the stones was written the name of one of the Lamb's twelve apostles. 15The angel who spoke to me had a gold measuring stick to measure the city and its gates and its walls. 16The city was shaped like a cube, because it was just as high as it was wide. When the angel measured the city, it was about two thousand four hundred kilometres high and two thousand four hundred kilometres wide. 17Then the angel measured the wall, and by our measurements it was about sixty metres high. 18The wall was built of jasper, and the city was made of pure gold, clear as crystal. 19Each of the twelve foundations was a precious stone. The first was jasper, the second was sapphire, the third was agate, the fourth was emerald, 20the fifth was onyx, the sixth was carnelian, the seventh was chrysolite, the eighth was beryl, the ninth was topaz, the tenth was chrysoprase, the eleventh was jacinth, and the twelfth was amethyst. 21Each of the twelve gates was a solid pearl. The streets of the city were made of pure gold, clear as crystal. 22I did not see a temple there. The Lord God All-Powerful and the Lamb were its temple. 23And the city did not need the sun or the moon. The glory of God was shining on it, and the Lamb was its light. 24Nations will walk by the light of that city, and kings will bring their riches there. 25Its gates are always open during the day, and night never comes. 26The glorious treasures of nations will be brought into the city. 27But nothing unworthy will be allowed to enter. No one who is dirty-minded or who tells lies will be there. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be in the city.
1Our God, you deserve praise in Zion, where we keep our promises to you. 2Everyone will come to you because you answer prayer. 3Our terrible sins get us down, but you forgive us. 4You bless your chosen ones, and you invite them to live near you in your temple. We will enjoy your house, the sacred temple. 5Our God, you save us, and your fearsome deeds answer our prayers for justice! You give hope to people everywhere on earth, even those across the sea. 6You are strong, and your mighty power put the mountains in place. 7You silence the roaring waves and the noisy shouts of the nations. 8People far away marvel at your fearsome deeds, and all who live under the sun celebrate and sing because of you. 9You take care of the earth and send rain to help the soil grow all kinds of crops. Your rivers never run dry, and you prepare the earth to produce much grain. 10You water all its fields and level the lumpy ground. You send showers of rain to soften the soil and help the plants sprout. 11Wherever your footsteps touch the earth, a rich harvest is gathered. 12Desert pastures blossom, and mountains celebrate. 13Meadows are filled with sheep and goats; valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs. (A song and a psalm for the music leader.) Shout praises to God
1Sing a new song to the Lord ! Everyone on this earth, sing praises to the Lord , 2sing and praise his name. Day after day announce, The Lord has saved us! 3Tell every nation on earth, The Lord is wonderful and does marvellous things! 4The Lord is great and deserves our greatest praise! He is the only God worthy of our worship. 5Other nations worship idols, but the Lord created the heavens. 6Give honour and praise to the Lord , whose power and beauty fill his holy temple. 7Tell everyone of every nation, Praise the glorious power of the Lord . 8He is wonderful! Praise him and bring an offering into his temple. 9Everyone on earth, now tremble and worship the Lord , majestic and holy. 10Announce to the nations, The Lord is King! The world stands firm, never to be shaken, and he will judge its people with fairness. 11Tell the heavens and the earth to be glad and celebrate! Command the ocean to roar with all its creatures 12and the fields to rejoice with all their crops. Then every tree in the forest will sing joyful songs 13to the Lord . He is coming to judge all people on earth with fairness and truth. The Lord brings justice