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Middle Years

11.06 Tessellations (Investigation)



Picture Source: Wikipedia

You may have heard that numbers go on to infinity. In other words, numbers never end.  That's pretty crazy right? Well, a really cool designer and artist named M. C. Escher played with how to represent the concept of infinity by using tessellations, or patterns that go on forever. A tessellation is a repeating pattern of polygons (shapes) that covers a plane (flat surface) with no gaps or overlaps. The tessellation below, called Bird Fish, is one famous example.


This easiest way to think of it is someone tiling a floor. All the pieces fit together perfectly, without any gaps. There are some beautiful examples of tessellations in nature, such as the cute little hexagon array that makes up honeycomb, as well as in architecture around the world. Tessellations were used a lot to create beautiful decorative tiling patterns in ancient Roman and Islamic art, such as the Alhambra Palace and Reales Alcázeres. Today, we see tessellations used to create decorative effects in quilts.


The Alhambra Palace, Spain

Class activity

Research some different examples of tessellations around the world. You can look at works by M. C. Escher, or one of the examples mentioned. Or you can find some cool ones of your own.

Share the different tessellations you find with your class.


Check out Tessellation Town

There's a cool site that has created Tessellation Town, a world where things fits together perfectly. Have a play around and see what kind of patterns you can create. It's pretty fun!



Tessellations have led to the creation of other kinds of geometrical puzzles, such as jigsaw puzzles and tangrams. A tangram is an ancient Chinese puzzle, created by cutting a square cut into seven pieces (as shown in the picture below) which can then be arranged to make various other shapes.


Create your own tangram by printing the tangram outline at the end of this investigation or try out these tangram puzzles.


Build your own tessellating piece

It can be really fun to create your own tessellating piece, and it is surprisingly easy to do.  

  • Start with a known tessellating shape like a square or rectangle (let's pick an easy one to begin with)

  • Draw any shape/line you like along one of the long edges of the rectangle. It's important you don't touch any other sides. 

  • Now do the same along the short edge.

  • Cut out the two pieces you have just drawn and slide them into position on the opposite side

  • This is your tessellating piece. 
  • Grab a piece of paper and start tracing, add some color and you will create a beautiful tessellating masterpiece in minutes!




Tangram template to print

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