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# Perfecting your math skills during the summer

We can all use a little help over the summer keeping our math skills going. It’s a known fact that most students lose about two months of math skills during the summer. That said, below please find a few creative ways that kids can help prevent summer math brain drain while having fun at the same time, according to Glen Whitney, founder and executive director of the Museum of Mathematics (www.momath.org), which will open in NYC in 2012 and will boast dynamic exhibits and programs that will stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of math. This is the beginning of a series of math tips. (It’s not just for kids!)

AT THE BEACH

Maybe your summer getaway includes some lazy time on the beach.  Here are a few hidden mathematical gems to look for among the sand and the shells.

1) Shell spirals
As many creatures with shells grow, they need more room to live in, and so they add on successively larger layers to their shells.  This causes their shells or portions of their shells to take on the mathematical shape of a spiral.  See what types of spirals you can find on your beach.  What is the largest number of turns of a spiral you can find on a single shell?

2) Seaside symmetry
Look around at the shells and birds and stones and plants and other natural things you can find at the beach.  Some of them are symmetric, so they can be divided up into equal parts that are either all alike or are mirror images of each other.  In particular, some things are bilaterally symmetric, which means that they could be divided in half along the middle into two parts that are mirror images of each other.  What do you see that is bilaterally symmetric?  Other things may have different symmetries.  For example, you may be able to find something like a sand dollar or a starfish that has five-fold symmetry — if you took a starfish and turned it 1/5 of a turn, you almost couldn’t tell the difference, because it has five equal parts arranged around a central point.  What kinds of symmetries can you find?  You may also find some different symmetries in some of the beach equipment and toys that people have brought to the beach.

3) Wave counts
If you have a way to time five minutes or so, watch one spot of the beach and count how many waves wash up at exactly that spot during that time period.  Divide by the number of minutes you spent watching to get the frequency of the waves, in waves per minute.  Now walk along the beach a little ways, and try counting again.  Do you get the same wave frequency?  Is that what you expected or not?   Here’s another wave activity you can do without a timer:  watch the waves for a little while and notice that some waves are bigger and other waves are smaller.  Now take a stick or your finger, and when each wave comes in, draw an X in the sand if it was a big wave, or an O in the sand if it was a small wave.  Put your marks one after the other in a row.  When you have about twenty marks or so, look back at the Xs and Os that you have made.  Do you notice any patterns in the sizes of the waves?