Often when we do patterns in primary classrooms, we have students extend them, name them, and even create them. But if we ask students to work with patterns in the context of a problem-solving task, the thinking can be even richer.
I recently had both of my grade two math classes create patterns with pattern block pieces. (I was using die cut paper versions of the blocks as I intended to have the students glue down their final product.) I started the lesson by having them create a pattern with the green triangle as the 6th element of the pattern. As I had expected, every child was quickly successful with that. The fact that 6 has factors of both 2 and 3 meant that students creating common patterns such as AB, AAB, ABB, or ABC ending with a green triangle would easily end up repeating the triangle as the 6th element.
The second part of the challenge was significantly more difficult: I asked students to create a pattern with the green triangle as the 7th element of the pattern. Most students were initially stumped as to how to do this. Some just created longer versions of their initial pattern and had to be encouraged to carefully check the 7th element of their pattern. Although the students started out working in a ‘trial and error’ manner, most moved eventually to the point of being able to predict whether or not a green triangle would “land” in the correct spot.
In the end, all but one student was successful in the time frame I had for the lessons (approximately 35 minutes for both parts). I was happy with the thinking and talking that went on in the class as students worked to create and then glue down their patterns.
Pictured here is the bulletin board made from the students’ work.
I would encourage you to do a problem-solving task with your primary students. Of course, feel free to borrow mine! I’d love to hear how it goes with your students.