A common professional conversation among librarians and folks that work with teenagers is how we can better prepare young people for the highly competitive, cooperative, fast-paced work environment. One key aspect that is bandied about is an emphasis on STEAM teaching; the other is the training of students to become a part of the creative class. Creative, as it is used here, means less about painting, and more about the ability to problem solve and to draw from a large body of experiences to create these solutions.
I approach teen programming from a deeply personal perspective and try to engage them with problems to solve and activities that slyly teach STEAM skills. Whatever I become interested in, I talk about with my teens. Previously, I’ve written about the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, paper pleating and digital storytelling. Since the last time I wrote, I recently took up embroidery and discovered that I enjoyed sewing using repeated shapes. This process of repeating shapes, so that they touch each other with no gaps is called tessellation. A common tessellation is the honeycomb, which is built out of nestled hexagons.
Tessellations, strictly speaking, are a repetition made out of one shape. The shapes that can tessellate on a flat surface have an internal angle that divides 360° evenly. Normally, at this point, I would have teenagers quickly name polygon names, have the names connect back to Greek prefixes and then, do some mental math. To keep this brief, I will use our previous common tessellation example, the honeycomb. A hexagon, with its six sides, can tessellate because six divides into 360 evenly.
However, if a polygon’s angle is not divisible by 60, can a repeated pattern be made? This is where I add a bit of experimentation and teamwork. I have created a series of worksheets with regular polygons (triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, etc.) that the teens will cut out and see if a pattern can be formed from shapes whose internal angle does not divide evenly into 360°. I also reproduce these shapes in a variety of colors, so that they can create a large sheet in an eye-pleasing pattern.
Real world applications for tessellation are numerous, beyond just tiles for a bathroom floor; tessellations are used solar panel arrays, compact collapsible objects such as the Muira Map fold.
Come visit us in Teen’Scape this summer. We are in the midst of our summer reading contest, pitting librarians and teenagers and we’ll gladly share you other teen craft ideas.