Students Celebrate Diwali: Geometry and Light

This November students discovered elements of geometry while celebrating Diwali, the Hindu New Year festival which celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Diwali is an important national festival in India and Pakistan and is celebrated around the world by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists. Diwali, which is also called Deepavali or Divali, gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (diya or deepa) that many people light outside their homes to symbolize the victory of light. 

Students in Paula Lee’s third grade class learned about the holiday by watching videos of the celebrations in India on their classroom touch screen. They then used several colors of lentils, beans, and rice to trace and fill rangoli patterns in their classroom. Rangoli are Indian folk art designs which families typically make in front of their homes to welcome guests during the festival. Families create rangoli designs using colored rice, flour, lentils, colored sand or even flower petals. The designs use concentric circles, specific ratios, and rotational symmetry and are meant to symbolize the harmonious coexistence of all living things. 

Upper Division Math Teacher Jas Thodiyil also led her sixth grade students in investigating the festival’s mathematical elements. Ms. Thodiyil shared with her sixth graders regional folk dances like bhangra, discussed the significance of bindi, and showed students how to decorate their own small clay diya lamps. 

 

To demonstrate their learning and celebrate the “festival of lights,” grade 6 students then designed their own rangoli patterns. They presented the math in their patterns to the class, and then they shared their patterns with the whole school by drawing them in chalk in the school’s driveway or, for remote students, outside their homes.

Ms. Thodilyil said in a note to families, “If you saw these patterns at pickup on Friday afternoon, we hope they cheered you! We are especially grateful for all of the families of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s for sharing the lights of their lives with our community.”