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Everyone knows the line in the movie Frozen that says, “frozen fractals all around,” but do you know what a fractal really is?
A fractal is a repeating pattern in nature that starts simple but gradually gets more complex.
You can explore the basics of fractals, the math behind them, and why they exist while making these simple fractal suncatchers. It’s a fun STEAM activity to try with your kids.
Nature Fractal Suncatchers
Before getting started, you’ll need just a few things.
Fractal Activity Supplies
Fractal Activity Procedure
This activity is about exploring the fractals and patterns in nature and repeating them on bright colored sun catchers that you can use to bring a little bit of science to your decorations.
Before starting, discuss fractals and how to find them in nature, and why all organic things follow a specific mathematical pattern that results in fractals (more on this below).
Let the kids go outside (visiting a park is best) and select the natural materials that illustrate their favorite fractal patterns. Bring the nature inspiration inside.
Draw a circle on the inside of your laminating pocket.
Draw the outline of the fractal pattern onto the circle with a permanent marker.
Use a washable marker to color in the circle.
Close the laminating pockets and run them through the laminator.
Punch a hole in the top of the sun catcher with a hole punch and tie a string through the hole. Hang your sun catchers where they can get plenty of sunlight.
The Science Of Fractals
A mathematician named Benoit Mandelbrot (watch his TED talk) coined the term fractal in 1975. A fractal is a visual expression of a repeating pattern that starts simple, but gets more and more complex as it expands.
Another term for fractal is expanding symmetry. The classic example of a fractal is a snowflake, which is produced with a very simple formula, but snowflakes are incredible complex. (Learn more about snowflake science)
There are several levels of fractals, which include:
- Exact self-similarity: The same on all scales.
- Quasi self-similarity: The same pattern repeated in different scales.
- Statistical self-similarity: A numerical pattern.
- Qualitative self-similarly: A time pattern.
- Multifractal scaling: Multiple fractal formulas in one.
Common fractals in nature include:
- Fault lines
- Heart rates
- Animal patterns
For more information on fractals, download this free educators guide to fractals.