A couple of weeks ago Evelyn Lamb’s article Impossible Wallpaper and Mystery Curves introduced me to Frank Farris’s work. On Saturday I stumbled on his book at Barnes and Noble:

I was excited to try out some of his ideas with the boys even though they use complex numbers and exponentials which are over their heads. We did the whole exploration this morning using Mathematica.

To start, we just explored the exponential function.

Next we moved to looking at sums of two exponential functions. The boys were surprised by the graphs and we played around with a few more examples. They had some interesting ideas about what the pictures looked like, and I’m glad that the pictures also reminded them a little of Anna Weltman’s loop-de-loops.

Next we moved on to sums of three exponential functions motivated by the idea of trying to produce another kink in the loop. There was a little discussion at the beginning of this part of the talk about complex variables. I thought going down this path was going to be too difficult to explain, so I tried to bring the conversation back to the sums. I love the ideas they had about symmetry here.

Next we looked at Farris’s “mystery” shape and played around a bit more with the ideas. These shapes also led to fun conversations about symmetry:

Finally, I let the kids just play around. As I was writing up this project I got a “hey dad, come here and look at this cool shape” call:

So, despite the math underlying these shapes being a little over their heads, the kids seemed to really enjoy seeing these shapes. I loved hearing their ideas and I loved seeing them play around with the ideas for a long time after we turned off the camera.

Also, Farris’s book is absolutely amazing – you’ll love the ideas and the presentation, and probably most of all the incredible pictures he creates from the ideas!

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