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Facing questions we do not know

March 5, 2016

As a review for our maths assessment, I asked my Grade 3s what questions they might have on the content we were reviewing and self rate their ability on the key understanding of the unit. To my surprise a few felt a bit uncertain about Symmetry. They sort of knew what it was but finding the lines of symmetry proved to be harder for many (especially when faced with the question where there were zero lines of symmetry.

So we had a chat about what symmetry is, where we can find it and we came up with a list then one learner said ‘our faces’ have symmetry. I was kind of stumped by this, so much so we stopped to inquire into it. The answer is no by the way, but close.  So we went on and reviewed shapes and other symmetrical things and that was sort of the end of it. Sort of.

I went home not completely satisfied with the ‘explanation’ I gave about faces being (kind of symmetrical). Kind of.. what kind of answer was that? (Well at the time it was good enough for me and 18 kids) but now I had time to think about I though a bit deeper. I of course went to the web to do a bit of research and I found this to be interesting:

1.More symmetrical faces are perceived as more attractive in both males and females, although facial symmetry plays a larger role in judgments of attractiveness concerning female faces.

Anyhow without turning this into a Doctoral Dissertation, I read a bit more and I found a few interesting articles on symmetry here and here and how symmetry links to our perception of beauty….anyhow I learned a few things.

Next I went back to the kids and brought up that question ‘Are our faces symmetrical’ and the kids  of course said ‘kind of’ and they are right but also wrong. I thought.. hmm so do we really understand what symmetrical means? Recalling Structured Word Inquiry, I blogged about my past experiences with it here, I thought what a great place to start so I fired up The Online Etymology Dictionary (as one naturally does) and got a bunch of results  but chose ‘symmetry’ and got this:

Screenshot 2016-03-05 16.03.42

We started to talk about proportion and dimension and we added a few other words that we thought were linked to symmetry. We had a little list going and more questions which we recorded but we wanted to answer – are faces symmetrical or not? We looked at our faces and made our hypothesis. The next day I pointed out photos of kids faces in color A3 and cut them in half (now I know what your thinking these are not symmetrical and your right because the kids took a selfie and sent it to me…) BUT my challenge was for them to try to draw the other half of their face the best they could …

So at this point it was just a bit of fun, I was hoping they would realise that our faces are not so symmetrical but then something rather remarkable happened. Kids grabbed their iPads and took a photo of the half of their face and used the mirror image in Photobooth to test their hypothesis with some pretty amazing, and really funny results. Everyone was doing it (I hadn’t even thought of doing this) but it really underscored the fact that our faces are NOT symmetrical and how odd we would look if they were. I found this website of what these celebrities faces would look like of their faces were perfectly symmetrical, it pretty much confirmed our results using the mirror image on the iPad and it was pretty funny too).

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iPad mirror image of student drawing


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We then followed up with a bit of research on Math is Fun and taught our partner one thing we found out about symmetry as well as came up with 1 wondering we had about symmetry

So what did we learn?

  • Our faces are not perfectly symmetrical
  • Our faces would look funny if they were symmetrical
  • We know that symmetry also ‘means’ proportional and other related vocabulary to add to our word banks.
  • The mirror function on the iPad is pretty cool

Wonderings we still had:

  • Which side of our face would we prefer (our ‘good side). We looked different.
  • Why are our faces  (sides) different?
  • Why isn’t everything symmetrical?
  • How is it possible NOT to have a line of symmetry?
  • How do things have more than  line of symmetry?

So, this was all a bit messy, it was loud a times and it wasn’t all ‘done’ in a lesson. In fact, it was quite the ‘spontaneous inquiry’ and was very much unplanned but by the time we were done, I had cleared up some of my own misconceptions I had as well. We have our attempt at making our faces symmetrical proudly hanging outside the classroom for all to see. We had fun combining a bit of art, language, investigation and math.


Grade 3 Investigators and Questioners

  1. Jones, B. C., Little, A. C., Tiddeman, B. P., Burt, D. M., & Perrett, D. I. (2001). Facial symmetry and judgements of apparent health Support for a “‘ good genes ’” explanation of the attractiveness – symmetry relationship, 22, 417–429.
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