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The Importance of Patterns

Sponsored by Swiss International School in Qatar

Patterns are fundamental to our understanding of the world and are an important element of every mathematics curriculum. Their significance is often reduced to the repeating patterns of two-dimensional shapes, but in mathematics, they are so much more. Patterns are sequences of numbers, shapes, or objects that follow a certain rule to remain the same or change.

Identifying patterns

The natural world is a starting point for identifying patterns. The patterns of a seashell, the petals of a flower, and the construction of a beehive are all naturally-occurring patterns. A child will develop their understanding of the concept of patterns naturally by doing an activity like dancing to the beat of a song and following along with a clapping sequence. They will also start to identify and make patterns in their play; arranging toys or lego pieces in a line following a particular rule is the start of their development in creating patterns. At first, these patterns may be incorrect, but after discussing them with your child, you will see the patterns they are trying to form and the reasoning behind them.

So, what can you do to encourage patterns in play? Play and have a conversation with your child by asking them questions such as: “What is next?” “Why is it going to be ‘red’?” “What would happen if I remove this toy?” “Can we add another colour?”. You can also express curiosity by saying something like “talk to me about what you are doing.”
Patterns are the foundation of numeracy skills. Without a solid understanding of patterns, learners may not understand numbers. Our number system is a pattern that is based on the multiplication of ten. Ten is ten times bigger than one, one hundred is ten times bigger than ten, and so on. Skip-counting in the early grades develops into an understanding of the patterns of multiplication tables. When a child skip-counts, they understand that they must miss a certain number of numbers. For example, when skip-counting by three, they are essentially skipping two numbers between the multiples of three. Additionally, the hundreds chart is a visual representation of patterns.

Number patterns are endless

Thinking in patterns is essential when it comes to mathematics, and there are several things you can do to encourage this skill in your child. Firstly, make sure that your child is using the correct vocabulary.  You can do this by referring to the value of numbers when working mathematically. For example, the number 356 has three hundreds, five tens, and six ones. You can also say that 356 is made up of three hundred, fifty, and six, as opposed to just saying that it contains the digits three, five, and six. Your child can also practise skip-counting or the multiplication tables using concrete objects such as stones, sticks, or toys. You can also give them the chance to play with those items and group them when completing division equations. Another trick is to ask your child to spot the patterns hidden within the hundreds and multiplication charts, and to colour them in. As children also effectively learn through play, games like Code Breaker or Rummy (both found at Carrefour or LuLu Hypermarket) are great tools to help them explore this concept.

Algebra is filled with rules and number sequences, all of which are patterns. When older learners are asked to find the perimeter of growing shapes, they are required to find out the pattern of growth using formulas. These patterns are usually presented in a table format with an algebraic rule to follow. At higher levels, learners need to explain their answers using these rules to help them find the corresponding larger numbers.

So, what can you do to encourage thinking in patterns when it comes to algebra? Start early by having your child explain their patterns or their mathematical knowledge from a young age. Do not settle for “‘cause it’s easy” or “‘cause I know” as answers. When learners are encouraged to justify their answers, use the correct vocabulary, and explore patterns with concrete materials and in real-life situations, they will find algebra easier to understand on a deeper level. If your child is older and is struggling with algebra, go back to basics—take it back to colour patterns, number patterns, and the growing patterns of shapes.
Never be afraid to take your child’s learning back to the basics and use concrete materials as support. If you feel that your child had missed out on understanding certain concepts, they probably just need to re-experience working with concrete objects.

Kate Flood is a PYP Instructional Coach in Mathematics at Swiss International School in Qatar (SISQ). She is from Australia and has been a primary school teacher for the past 12 years. She has spent the past ten years teaching at international schools in China, Qatar, UAE, and returned to Qatar to be part of the primary department at SISQ. For more information on Kate, please visit www.sisq.qa. Admissions for September 2020 are ongoing at SISQ. Interviews and assessments are being conducted at the moment.

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