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Video: Students blend art and science to create fractal dance

Science Odyssey week events helps young people draw links between movement and mathematics

In a spectacle of twirling bodies and waving hands, more than 250 students from R.L. Beattie Public School performed the 'Fractal Dance' on May 13, as part of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council's Science Odyssey Week

Science Odyssey is a campaign held every year in May. It encourages science outreach leaders across the country to host fun, engaging and inspiring activities centred around science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). 

This is the second time the public school has participated in the national initiative, last year performing a 'DNA Dance,' which showcased the moves that mitochondrial DNA makes in the process of replication. Interested in once again demonstrating the connection between art and science, R.L. Beattie worked with Canada Research Chair in Genomic and Bioinformatics, Dr. Thomas Merritt, to create a dance that communicates the unique movement and universality of the fractal. 

"A fractal is basically just a repeating pattern," said Grade 6 student Austin Conroy, one of the participants of the school's Fractal Dance. "It's infinite, it goes on forever, and they are often found in nature."

“If you think about it the way that (the trunk of a tree) comes up and splits into branches, and those branches split into even smaller branches, and the branches split into twigs, those are the repeating...patterns that make up a fractal," said Merritt. 

In preparation for the dance, Grade 5 and 6 students spent weeks learning about fractals and were asked to consider dance moves to demonstrate what they had learned. These moves were then organized and choreographed by teachers at R.L. Beattie Public School, based on an original composition by music teacher Colette Nadeau. 

"I wrote down the word fractals," Nadeau said. "I realized there were some of the notes from the musical alphabet in the word fractal." 

F - f
R - ré
A - a
C - c
T - ti
A - a
L - la
S - sol

A process Nadeau said was a bit of a challenge, but rewarding none the less. 

Students were separated into three groups, with one sitting, one kneeling and one standing, and would switch between these positions based on the instrument being used at that particular moment. Each group had a team leader, who would demonstrate the movements of that particular position based on the tempo and speed of the music. 

In addition to being a fun way for students to learn about fractals and recognize them in their daily life, Merritt said outreach events such as this are critical in bridging the gap between art and science. 

Whenever students hear about fractals moving forward, they are going to have this personal connection to help them remember, but it breaks down barriers even broader than that, said Merritt. 

"We really have made this false separation between art and science, and one of the great things we can do with these kinds of events is help break that down so that as these students are going through school they're not seeing them as separate ... they're seeing art and science as this spectrum, this continuation."

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Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A graduate of both Laurentian University and Cambrian College, Keira Ferguson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, at
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