Kindergartners love patterns. Or should I say "pat-ter-ens." They're super fun! But what they don't know is that they are an essential building block in their understanding about numbers. What starts out in kindergarten as making pretty designs with pattern blocks eventually leads to skip counting, repeated addition (and therefore multiplication and division), algebraic reasoning, and beyond! So it's important that we provide them with a solid foundation.
I want my students to recognize patterns in many different contexts. I want them to understand that red...red..green is the same as orange...orange...blue...is the same as big...big...little.
For this activity, I make several patterns on large pieces of chart paper and place them on tables around the room. I divide the students into pairs and give them different math tools. Their challenge is to go around the room and create the different patterns with their own math tools.
I try to make sure the math tools I provide are different sizes and shapes so that they cannot just place their own tools on top of my pattern. I want them to find the pattern core and then recreate it on their own.
You can extend this activity by having the students create their own patterns in their math journals and then seeing how many different ways they can make the same pattern...different colors, shapes, etc.
I debate every year over whether or not to teach my students how to name patterns using letters. My concern is that they will come to associate patterns with letters and not see their connection to numbers. But it is an easy way to identify patterns, especially when I'm pushing them to create different patterns. Some kids will create LOTS of AAB patterns...red-red-orange...green-green-blue...circle-circle-square. When I ask them to create a different pattern--they say, "But they ARE different!" If we can name them with letters, they eventually see that they are actually the same.
So my compromise is to teach them how to do it, but to make it very clear that this is just ONE way that they can name patterns. I start by having a student create a pattern in the pocket chart. Then I have different students recreate that same pattern using different math tools. Eventually, I will give a student a set of letter cards and have them recreate the pattern with those.
I explain that a simple way to give a pattern a name is to just refer to the core, because if we know that, then we can make that pattern as long as we want. We could name the pattern any of these options: green-yellow; square-circle; hexagon-square. But a very simple, and popular way to name a pattern is with letters: A-B.
We make some more challenging patterns and name them in the same way. But I make sure to stress that we could just as easily name this pattern chicka-boom-boom-splat. ABBC is just a convenient way that they may be asked to use throughout their school years.
As much fun as we have making patterns out of pattern blocks and macaroni and stamps and shapes--we cannot forget numbers! I start this lesson by simply asking the kids to make patterns with numbers. Some kids use actual numbers, some kids make repeating groups of objects (and, of course, some kids don't know where to begin). We share and discuss the different ideas the kids have and base our discussion on them.
I eventually make a simple pattern like the AAAB pattern below. Then I ask the kids what would happen if I counted how many of each color were in each "group." We recreate the same pattern using connecting cubes and place them vertically in the pocket chart.
And then we discuss it--Is it a pattern? Does it repeat? Is it easy to tell what comes next? What is the core?
I give the kids connecting cubes and challenge them to create their own number patterns. Then I have them record them on a grid paper for their math journals.
Here, I challenge the kids to apply what they have learned about patterns to solve a problem. Remember--resist the urge to show the kids how to solve the problem. Read the problem, discuss it, provide them with a varity of tools and see what happens. Make sure to circulate among your students and guide them with questioning and gentle nudges. And then come together during mathematician's chair to have the kids explain the different ways they solved it.
Here is similar problem. You can, of course, adjust the numbers or difficulty of the pattern to fit the needs of your own class (the example below is actually different than the one on the label). You can also solve these problems together as a group (although you need to sit back and let the kids take the lead!)
I always like to reward my kids at the end of a unit with something fun. In this case, I let them make bracelets out of pony beads and chenille stems. The beads are our school colors. Of course, the bracelet MUST be a pattern.
We are not done with patterns, yet. We will continue to revist them throughout the year in many contexts. And we will explore number patterns (specifically growing and shrinking patterns) in a few weeks.