Thursday, March 26, 2009

M6G1 a - Symmetry

M6G1. Students will further develop their understanding of plane figures.
a. Determine and use lines of symmetry.

In the last entry, I mentioned that the topic of odd/even numbers is one of the topics some teachers are surprised to see discussed so much later than they used to. Another topic that some teachers have expressed their surprise because of the lateness of the treatment is the idea of symmetry. Many teachers of primary grades have children explore (reflective) symmetry through paper folding. They will have students make symmetrical shape by cutting a folded papers, or have them fold symmetric figures so that the two sides will coincide.

Clearly, young children can explore, and enjoy exploring, symmetries through such activities. However, as valuable as such informal experiences may be, they are still "informal" explorations. It is important for children to consider and understand symmetry as a mathematical idea, too. Such study of symmetry is the focus of this particular standard.

According to this standards, students are supposed to "further develop their understanding of plane figures" by studying symmetry. Thus, the purpose of studying symmetry isn't just about learning symmetry. Rather, using symmetry as a new perspective to review those shapes that have been previously studied. So, for example, what kinds of triangles are symmetric? From this perspective, isosceles triangles and equilateral triangles are in one group, symmetric triangles.

Students can also explore which types quadrilaterals have reflective (line) symmetry. Parallelograms, with the exception of those which are also rectangles, do not possess reflective symmetry. Many children (and adults) think that the line that are parallel and in between a pair of sides will serve as the line of symmetry. When they actually fold a parallelogram, they are surprised that the two sides do not match up. That experience, in turn, can help students understand that the line of reflection must be the perpendicular bisector of the segments connecting corresponding points. [The notion of "corresponding points" follows from their study of congruent figures in Grade 5 -- because the two sides of a symmetric figures are congruent, there are corresponding points. As a result, the formal study of symmetry must follow the study of congruence.] With that understanding, children can now determine the line of symmetry (M6G1a) without having to actually fold the paper, or simply eye balling it. This knowledge will also allow them to complete a figure when one side of the figure and the line of symmetry are given.

Many Japanese mathematics teachers consider the study of symmetry in Grade 6 as the culminating point of the study of geometry in elementary schools (in Japan, elementary schools cover grades 1 through 6). Children not only learn about symmetry, but they also learn to use symmetry as a perspective to re-analyze shapes they have learned. Most Grade 6 classrooms in Georgia are in middle schools. So, perhaps we can position the study of symmetry as an entry point into a more formal study of geometry in secondary schools.

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Elaboration of Georgia Performance Standards by Tad Watanabe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.