How to Create Rich and Engaging Math Unit Studies – Hexagons Part IV

Have you ever considered the wonder and beauty of the honeybee's honeycomb structure? Just look at the beautiful honeycomb below.

hexagons in nature

My professor in college used to say, "busier than bees and wax." Can anyone be truly as busy as drones building their community's honeycomb? Yes! Homeschool parents!

They're all made up of, you guessed it from the title of this blog, HEXAGONS! Hexagons are one of nature's patterns including:

  1. Circular - spirals, spheres, circles - flowers, leaves, planets
  2. Hexagons - we'll cover these shortly
  3. Lines - straight, curved, waves or meanders - rivers, ocean waves, wind-blown sand
  4. Fractals - branching as in lightening bolts and veins of a leaf
  5. Symmetry - butterfly wings, flowers
  6. Five-pointed star - flowers have these many times in their petal arrangement or found within male and female parts.

However, they're more of the rarer pattern compared to say circular or fractal patterns which are found pretty much anywhere you could look about you now and right outside your door. Not so with hexagons in nature. Hexagons take a little bit more effort to find, but, if you know where to look, you'll be in for quite a treat. 

Building a unit study around nature's hexagons can bring in several cross-curricular connections. I'll covering the cross-curricular connections you can make along with the types of hexagons in nature you can find outdoors which you and your learners can study up close and personal.  

Where to Find Hexagons in Nature, the Fuel for Beautiful Math Unit Studies

*Please note: Depending on where you live geographically, you might not be able to locate these hexagons locally. Alternatively, you can look for pictures of the hexagon types from the Internet or in field guides from the library. It will be interesting to see what you can find locally. Use the template download below to assist you.

  • Honeybee hive - look for any bee hives in your backyard or neighborhood. Use obvious caution near them
  • Wasp nest - Look around the corners of your roof, under a porch, near windows. Observe their gray-brown papery nest. Take a photograph. Zoom in and sketch part of the next in your MathArt journal
  • Minerals - Use mindat.org's hexagon mineral guide to assist you. Minerals with a hexagonal atomic crystal growth come from the hexagonal mineral system. Not all crystals grow in perfect hexagons. My personal favorite mineral hexagonal crystal examples from the beryl group, including emerald and beryl.
  • Minerals again - Giant's Causeway, Ireland - There are number of places on earth (I know, you probably won't find these in your backyard) where basalt has grown into tall hexagon columns. Here I sit now about 30 minutes from the famed Devil's Post Pile. Here's the Giant's Causeway Guide.
  • Snowflakes - During a snowfall, snowflakes grow and fall to the earth in a variety of crystalline types, with hexagonal plates and columns being the most popular in cultural art depictions. Check out snowcrystals.com for some amazing snow crystal science and activities. Check out the snow crystal type chart here. Scroll down for the clickable chart. Look for the hexagonal plates and columns. 
  • Compound arthropod eyes - Many adult insect eyes are typically compound and made up of tiny microscopic hexagonal facets or lenses. Look around in your backyard for insects, especially flies and bees. If you have any dead flies or bees laying around, grab your microscope and look at their amazing eyes!

How to put the Hexagons in Nature Unit Study Together

You may be wondering by now, "why would I even bother doing a hexagons in nature unit study?" This is your opportunity to connect the following academic subjects together in a unique and scholarly manner. Your learner will be entralled at the connections with math and the real world around them. This unit study is unique in that it connects multiple subjects with math as the foundation. Their academic learning doesn't have to be in isolated boxed curriculum fashion.

  • Literature
  • History
  • Geography
  • Science - Entymology (study of insects) and Geology
  • Math - geometry - we're covering hexagons of course
  • Art - Your learner can create some pretty amazing hexagonal art projects
  • Writing

That's most of the academics covered!

Let's look at what we can cover in each subject related to hexagons in nature.

What are Literature Connections with Hexagons?

In my MathArt classes, I introduce students to the existence and science behind the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. We include studying the Irish legend of Giant's Causeway. You can watch the DVD version of the story below. There are a few different versions of the story, but this is one of the best animations.

What Are History Connections with Hexagons?

History connections can include the following:

You can study the history of beekeeping. Perfectbee.com has a great page about it. Here's a free PowerPoint about the history of beekeeping.

You can additionally study the history and geology of Giant's Causeway.

What are Geography Connections with Hexagons?

History and geography go hand-in-hand. You can use either a an old atlas book from the library (if you prefer to be more hands-on with maps) or use Google Earth or Google Maps. In this particular unit study, our main geographic connections include the following which you can look up and locate on your chosen map:

  • The location of Giant's Causeway in Ireland and Devil's Postpile
  • Any other famous basalt hexagonal columns around the world
  • Any geographic locations of interest from the beehive history studies from Perfectbee.com 

What are Science Connections with Hexagons?

Science topics include learning about:

  1. Entymology - learn about the compound eyes of insects.
  2. The geology behind the formation of basalt hexagonal columns such as Devil's Post Pile and Giant's Causeway.
  3. Hexagonal crystal system which connects both geometry and geology.

How to Connect Math with Hexagons in Nature

This one is the crux of the study for you begin with looking for hexagons that may be in your backyard.

  1. Start by drawing the different types of hexagons you can find in your backyard from the Where to Find Hexagons in Nature section above and using the template download below. Then add the rest of the types you can't find such as minerals.
  2. Study the geometry of hexagons. Math is Fun.com has a great page introducing hexagons with another connection to nature.

How to Add Art to a Hexagons in Nature Study

Below is a fun video tutorial on creating a hexagon explosion box. This can be used as a 3D lapbook probably most suitable for middle and high school students because of its complexity. Please visit the video on YouTube as the video creator provides all the measurements in the description, which will be VERY helpful to have! Students can add content to it that they've learned in this study in this culminating hands on projects using real math to create it. 

If you prefer written instructions, Lisa's Passion 2 Scrap has a great blog tutorial here.

How to Connect Writing with Hexagons

I encourage my MathArt students to keep a "MathArt" journal. This enables them to note-take, create freestyle journals from my templates and use it to write down math connections they see around them. Below is a picture from one of my journals illustrating how you can incorporate writing. You can also create innovative writing prompts for each of the topics studied in this unit. Below are some ideas for writing prompts.

  1. If your learner finds a bee or wasp nest. "How did the insects come to choose that location to build their nest?"
  2. Re-write the legend of Giant's Causeway explaining how the stones got there.
  3. Write about the scientific process of how basalt hexagonal columns, like Giant's Causeway and Devil's Postpile formed.

If your homeschool completes any of these activities, please let us know about it in the comments below! 

Want to learn more from this series? Check out the following posts:

  1. How to Create Rich and Engaging Math Unit Studies Part I
  2. How to Create Rich and Engaging Math Unit Studies Part II
  3. How to Create Rich and Engaging Math Unit Studies - Circular Patterns

Until the next post...

Gloria aka NatureGlo

Meet NatureGlo Founder of NatureGlo's eScience