Fascinating Fractals for Kids

Yesterday, we watched an excellent Nova video called Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension. It’s in the Best of Nova, volume 4 if you want to stream it on Amazon Prime.

Both kids were fascinated by it. The boy loved the fact that fractals are based on mathematical equations that are infinite. The girl loved the idea that you can map an entire rainforest based on the measurements of a single tree. We all loved the art of it.

Fractals, if you don’t know, were named by Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975. They are a mathematical set that display similar qualities at large sizes as they do at small sizes. You see fractals everywhere: from the branches of trees, to the patterns in clouds, to the waves in the ocean. The amazing thing about fractals is that they are much better than Euclidean geometry (triangles, squares, circles) at showing what the real world is like.


Romanesco broccoli is a lovely, easily recognizable fractal. Notice how each smaller part holds the same pattern as the larger.

What I didn’t know is that cell phone antennas are fractals. In fact, the antennas are stronger if they are built and bent based on fractal equations. Did you ever wonder why we stopped needing those huge antennas on top of the house that would get struck by lightning during a storm? Antennas are smaller but more powerful now that they are fractal-based. You can find out more at http://www.fractenna.com/.



I’ve been fascinated by fractals since learning about them in a high school math class many years ago. I had no idea they had so many uses in the real world, though. The video shows how doctors are using fractal patterns to track everything from heartbeats to blood vessels to track possible cancer cells. I highly recommend this video if you’re looking for a good video on fractals for kids for homeschool or just for fun. You can do math and science in one. Then, you can get a group together and make some Sierpinski Triangle Art.

What have you learned about this week?

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