The Power of Patterns

Recently, I had the opportunity to present as part of the line-up for Howie Hua‘s Math Summer 2021 to talk about one of my favorite activities in math education – Visual Patterns.

If you’re not familiar, check out visualpatterns.org, created by Fawn Nguyen and featuring patterns submitted by teachers from around the world.

I love using visual patterns with learners of every age, because there is a 0% chance that everyone in the room is going to see the pattern growing in the exact same way. 

We began with a pattern that completely intimidated me the first time I saw it.

One of my favorite ways to engage with folks in a digital space while allowing for both independent thinking and collaboration is with Desmos. I put together a quick activity to help us get started, and immediately folks began chiming in with their ideas. 

I’m obsessed with the results we got! Here are just a few examples:

Math can sometimes feel like an isolated subject, but there is so much to be gained from everyone having the opportunity to share their thinking. One person noted, “I never even considered looking for the negative space until someone said that’s what they saw, and now I see it everywhere.”

Shortly after we wrapped up, I saw this tweet from David Butler:

It reminded me of all the great expressions that folks had come up with to describe the pattern they were seeing.

An expression tells a story. The most simplified expression is not always the best story teller. Real world context doesn’t have to mean coming up with a contrived story for every math concept. It can be as simple as giving students the tools to communicate with one another about the patterns they see, both in and out of class.

Update: Many thanks to Sophia Wood (@fractalkitty on Twitter) who created this awesome generator for visual patterns! Be sure to check out her website, https://fractalkitty.com for more awesome math activities and creations!

See the Pen vPatterns by Sophia (@fractalkitty) on CodePen.

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