Numbers in Nature: The awesome new exhibit at MSI that will make your kids fall in love with math

Your kids will never look at the world around them the same way after seeing the stunning new exhibit Numbers in Nature at the Museum of Science& Industry. This new permanent exhibit aims to make math fun and relevant for kids by illustrating how mathematical concepts are all around us in our everyday lives. A lofty goal, no doubt, but cleverly attained.

The exhibit features nearly 20 activities and interactive experiences that immerse visitors in mathematical concepts, such as the concept of patterns.

Olivia Castellini, the exhibit developer, explains that the museum has wanted to create substantial math content for sometime. They decided to use the idea of patterns in nature as their focal point because everyone can recognize patterns and it’s a natural way to engage kids.

She’s absolutely right.

There are no chalkboards or boring flash cards. Instead, the centerpiece of the exhibit is a 1,800-square-foot three-dimensional maze of triangular mirrors in which visitors can explore and navigate the seemingly infinite repeating pattern of mirrors. It’s truly like being placed inside a kaleidoscope.

After completing the maze, visitors head to interactive displays, touchscreens and kiosks to further identify and learn about the different types of patterns that can be found within nature, art and even within ourselves.

In the nature area, the sophisticated concept of fractals (or never-ending patterns) is beautifully explained through digital screens where kids can twist knobs to create an animated tree and watch the fractal branching patterns occur as it grows. In fact, it was not until this demonstration that I finally grasped the concept myself. Another often seen pattern in nature is spirals. Kids will enjoy using handheld viewfinders to try and align a spiral to a series of photos of nature and the man-made world and see which objects come close to the spiral and which don’t.

Moving into the Music, Art& Architecture area, kids will discover how patterns can be both seen and heard. In one activity kids can try their best to match patterns to historical architectural structures. Kids of all ages will enjoy using programmed cards to create and hear a piece of music and then try and identify the symmetry within.

One of the most fascinating areas in the exhibit is Patterns in You. Here kids will learn that many of the same patterns that appear in nature also appear in our body. Using a viewfinder, visitors learn that the same pattern of fractal branching found in trees can be found in the human eye with the branching of blood vessels. The concept of symmetry is demonstrated by having visitors look into a mirror and line up their face to see a symmetric reflection of half your face.

While we may think we’re symmetrical, in fact we’re not. It’s quite interesting to see your perfectly symmetrical reflection. In fact it is the asymmetry in our faces that makes each of us unique. Good to know!

The exhibit closes with a compelling look at how imperfections have enabled people to do extraordinary things. Michael Phelps, for example, has a unique set of proportions in his body that enable him to swim faster. Well that explains that.

While the content of the exhibit is geared specifically to middle school age children, they’ve done an outstanding job of layering on activities and experiences that even the youngest of kids can enjoy.

Numbers in Nature opened Thursday on the museum’s main level and a timed ticket is included in museum entry.

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