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Dancing Turtles

Peter Moore, Western Middle School, Tyne and Wear.

At our school, we have a Maths event in the evening about every two years. Parents are invited in to watch the children at work and experience a taste of what is expected from their child in school. The evening takes a lot of organisation and about 100 children take part, either demonstrating some mathematics or helping with the running of the evening. Parents are given a set of tasks as they enter and homework when they leave. The tasks are very popular and certainly get the parents involved. If a sufficiently high mark is achieved they are also presented with a certificate.

One of the most popular features is always the use of the floor turtles by the children. Originally this only involved one turtle, but after further discussion we decided to have more than one operating simultaneously. After contacting other schools we managed to borrow a further three turtles.

After some experimentation we realised that all four could be run at once but only in response to the same commands. By pointing them to the four points of the compass in the centre of the floor and then giving a set of commands they all move together, forward and backward, right and left, turning together like sequence dancers performing. It makes a spectacular sight and it's so simple. The parents were most impressed by the display and we knew we had to repeat it on the next Maths evening.

It sounds too easy to be true, but in fact it took a lot of preliminary work from the children before they were satisfied with the dances they wished the turtles to perform on the evening. Various arrangements of turtles were tried and each performance was different in its own way. Sometimes the children would have only two turtles dancing and in the next dance it would be three or four. Each alternative had its own charm and interest and involved writing a different procedure. Many procedures were written and discarded before the big evening.

Even if you do not hold a Maths event it is worth attempting to borrow more turtles from neighbouring schools to try out in lessons. Once you have seen them dancing you will want to repeat it again and again. Invite the schools from which you borrowed the turtles to visit and see the results of your efforts and very shortly your turtle will be on loan elsewhere.

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