Studying Patterns

Patterns have recently come into focus in our classroom discussions. The students use the word to describe formations across different fields of study, from the weather to mathematics to art.

One morning in Math Lab, the students were asked to differentiate patterns from random sequences of shapes. Choosing correctly, they then defined the word pattern to include anything that occurs in a repeating order. They were presented the challenge of conceiving patterns other than shape patterns.

One student described the patterns found in clothing from different cultures. Another student pointed out that there are many sorts of number patterns, such as multiples of 5’s or 10’s. One of the children expanded upon the concept of a pattern to describe time, from the repeating seasons, to months and days of the week, to the hours of a day that always fall in the same order. A child described life itself as a pattern, referring to the growth of plants as a process that occurs as predictable cycles. Another student noticed that the planets each follow a pattern, which is their orbit around the sun, and that each planet has it’s own pattern.

The discussion, as detailed above, was incredibly rich, and before long the identification of patterns became a trend among the whole class. To support the students’ exploration, the teachers staged an inter-disciplinary study of patterns.

In art class one morning, the students were introduced to a very special number pattern that is manifested in countless ways in nature. It is called the Fibonacci sequence, and it’s named after an Italian mathematician despite the fact that the sequence was discovered by Indian mathematicians many years prior. Ways in which the Fibonacci sequence can be observed in nature include the branching of a tree, arrangement of leaves on a stem, and the curl of a seashell. The students’ challenge was to represent the visual patterns they saw, from the Fibonacci sequence arranged on an XY axis to the center of a sunflower on small sheets of paper while honoring the ratios presented.

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Back in the classroom, the students were asked to re-present their understanding of the Fibonacci sequence. They were then given graphing paper to produce colorful and mathematically accurate models of the sequence.

For homework, they were asked to bring in natural objects that represented the same pattern. They adhered their samples to cardboard, and extended the patterns they saw in it by drawing a continuation.

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Musically, the students were challenged to create patterns using different instruments and working in groups. They practiced modeling different rhythms and trying to imitate each other’s rhythms. It was a deeply creative exercise and the students were very enthusiastic throughout!

Practicing pattern recognition is an important skill that strengthens different forms of cognitive reasoning, from mathematical and scientific to aesthetic. It also allows students to recognize cycles and patterns that repeat in nature, such as life cycles and time, which form a major component of the early elementary Texas state educational objectives.

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