The year of 2021 will see the great mathematician Alan Turing appear on the Bank of England’s £50 note. To celebrate this, the School of the Mathematics and Statistics at The University of Sheffield has created The Turing Pattern Project. The project is a collaborative nationwide activity for upper Key Stage 2 primary school students to learn about Turing and use his mathematical ideas to understand more about patterns in nature.

We provide options for teaching the project in the classroom or online. Alternatively, the project can be ran entirely by students working from home using our premade videos.

To read more about the project see this TES article, BBC bitesize article or follow us on Twitter!

Alan Turing

Turing is famously known as being the father of modern computing and decoding messages that helped Britain win WWII. However, one aspect of his story is conspicuous in its absence. Alan Turing used mathematics to formulate a theory of biology which describes many of the beautiful patterns which we see throughout the natural world. See a popular science article for more about these patterns. for more about these patterns.

This project introduces Turing’s ideas to primary school students, to show that mathematics can be used to understand the world. Turing’s description of patterns in nature is a visually striking subject that engages children’s mathematical drive and desire for science
Portrait of Alan Turing
Patterns on animals can be described using numbers. By zooming in on a picture of an animal, the colours of the pixels can be represented by numbers (see left). Here darker shades of fur are indicated by higher numbers.

Turing imagined that there are two chemicals inside an animals body and that their concentrations can be represented as a grid of numbers, performing certain mathematical calculations on the grid of numbers causes visual patterns to form.

This mathematics can be broken down into an algorithm that uses just adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, suitable for KS2 level arithmetic.

The Project

Each school that takes part in the Turing Pattern Project will be given worksheets that correspond to a time in an animal’s life. Students follow Turing's algorithm and send their answers back to us. Those answers will instruct us to reveal the next part of an exciting pattern. The pattern of the giant puffer fish! (see below)

The trajectory of schools taking part in the project will be visible on our custom built website alongside the evolving pattern of the giant puffer fish. The more schools that take part, the further the pattern evolves.

Our project provides Y5/Y6 class teachers with resources to follow Turing's story and his mathematical algorithm using a combination of teacher led demonstrations, videos and worksheets. Two sixty minute lessons are currently being reiteratively and carefully developed to be suitable to be taught by ordinary class teachers. Lessons are currently being trialled.
The first lesson introduces patterns in nature and Alan Turing. Students will take part in activities about patterns, colours, scientific vocabulary and the history of Alan Turing.
The second lesson is where the mathematical calculations occur; after some careful examples from the teacher the students will work together in small groups to determine the answers to the problems which will lead to their contribution to the pattern. In addition to these teacher led lessons, videos to accompany a home learning version of the project will be available.

Our Participating schools

The Evolving Project

Each school will be given their own grid of numbers that correspond to a point in time in the puffer fish’s pattern development. The numbers in the grid represent colours in the pattern. The students in the school will perform calculations on their grid and submit them to the University of Sheffield - doing their bit to create a small part of the pattern. As more schools contribute, more of the pattern is formed.

The animation shows the pattern evolving as more schools take part.

Our Progress

The Evolving Pattern

Each school will be given a grid that corresponds to the point in time where the last school stopped calculating. The school will then perform calculations on the grid and subsequently pass it on to the next school to perform the next set of calculations. The numbers in the grid represent colours in the pattern and as more schools contribute, the pattern begins to form.

The animation shows the pattern evolving as more schools take part.

See Our Lessons in Action

Our Collection of schools who have contributed to the national effort to helped evolve the Turing Pattern Project.


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Project Turing

Project Aims

  • To inspire primary school children into STEM subjects using Turing’s mathematics.
  • To connect with widening participation schools to breakdown social barriers and enable students to have the very highest educational and career aspirations.
  • To give primary school children more confidence in their mathematical ability and show them that mathematics has a wealth of interesting uses and isn’t just about arithmetic.
  • To promote and disseminate Turing’s life and work through his theory of pattern formation.