# Snowflakes

My recent comments about snow had me thinking of snowflakes. They’re kind of neat when they’re floating to earth. Those ones that are blown horizontally at great speeds aren’t so nice.

As my mind wandered thinking about snow, it reminded me of a fun and engaging project that I had given to a class. The idea was to draw a snowflake on the computer screen. The class premise for this was that no two snowflakes are alike. So, in addition to writing the software, we also had a snowflake display in the computer room afterwards to check out the beautiful designs.

To teach this involved a great deal of mathematics. “But, sir, this isn’t math class.” Well, yeah, math is everywhere …

We developed the concept with an X and a Y axis and the understanding that a snowflake should be perfectly symmetrical. So, starting at coordinate (0,0), we generated a random direction in the first quadrant and plotted. Again and again. We also decided that the rules of the game were to not allow our snowflake to go outside the quadrant and reflect itself on any axis that was in the way. For symmetry, we just reflected the point in the other three quadrants.

For those already strong in mathematics, it made a lot of sense and they were off and running. The others either glommed along with a deskmate or had a discussion with me. Once the concept was understood, they were off and running and a competition for the best snowflake was on. The original problem was designed to be simple; computer science students often like to outdo each other and so we had some pretty sophisticated solutions.

Yesterday, I started poking around and realized that a lot of other people had taken the concept and had already written a similar program. You can check out a Snowflake Generator here. A little more sophisticated than my project, you can see that there are all kinds of controls on the right side of the screen.

I could watch this for hours.

But, making snowflakes in education started very young for me. And, even in Kindergarten, the mathematics is still there. Four quadrants, reflections, patterns, etc.

There’s even an online solution if you’d like to play around with digital paper and scissors and generate a snowflake that way.

And the best part of both of these things is that you don’t have to shovel it.

If you’re so inclined, you can play with them for hours. You’ve got to love patterns and mathematics!

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