I want to bring students outside to look for patterns in nature to help students understand that there are patterns in so much of what we see and do and these patterns can help us make sense of our world. Common Core Standard MP7 suggests that students should be able to look for and make use of structure and I want students to see that structure is not just in numbers, but in so much of the way our world is organized. I tell students that we will be using the data to create several graphs so we can look for patterns that there might be in nature.
I give each student a piece of paper that asks them to trace a leaf, find out how many points on each leaf, how many leaves on a branch, and any other pattern that they may notice with the leaf or tree. I have students gather in the school's Nature Classroom, but any area with bushes or low tress would work for this. I show students a nearby bush and begin to count the leaves on each branch. I notice that each branch has only 1. I wonder out loud if that is true of every branch. I also note that the leaf has 5 sections. Do all leaves have 5 sections? I tell students that they will find a low tree or bush and look for patterns in that tree. Do they notice anything about the leaves, the points on the leaf, the veins on the leaf, etc. I ask them to record their findings. Students are to observe the structures of leaves in nature and record those observations for graphing.
I give students about 20 minutes to explore and record their observations.
I bring students inside with their data sheets. I tell them that we will look at the data they have gathered and see if there are any patterns or structures in nature. We will do this by creating a graph (2MD.D.10) together.
I ask students to draw 2 pictures from their data on 2 inch squares of paper. One should tell how many points on the leaves they had studied, and one should tell how many leaves on a branch. If they did not find both pieces of information, they can just do one or the other. I tell them to also put their initials on the front of the paper.
When the cards are drawn I hang two large sheets of paper at the front of the room. I ask students how we might create a graph of the data. I let students make suggestions. I am looking for suggestions such as a graph needs a title, there needs to be a zero line across the bottom, things can be set up in columns, there are numbers up the side and labels across the bottom. Together we discuss the ideas they suggest, and I demonstrate each idea until we can agree on labeling the graph so we know which is which, drawing columns to place our cards on, and numbering the columns 0 to 8 or more.
I draw the suggested lines and numbers on each graph (one for points on a leaf and one for leaves on a branch) and then invite a few students at a time to go and tape their pictures in the correct column. When all cards are taped I ask students what they notice? Are there any patterns in the numbers of leaves on a branch? or points on a leaf? ( I help students to compare whether leaves with 3 points also have the same amount of leaves on a branch, is that true for other numbers of points? - we can compare these patterns because the students put their names on their pictures. )
We also look at other patterns that students notice, such as which number of points is the most common, which number of leaves on a branch is most common. Looking for patterns is helping students to attend to precision (MP6) and attend to the structure of the graph (MP7). The students are looking carefully at the data and how it is displayed. Precision means attending to small details which is what studying the graph is forcing the students to do.