Why Patterns?

Making patterns is so much fun! You can make them as simple as the triangle/square pattern above or as complex as tessellations or fractals. One of the reasons that I love patterns so much is that anyone can do them and have fun at their own level. You can get a group of cousins or neighbors together, ranging in age from little 3 year-olds, all the way up to “big kids” and everyone can have fun. Another reason I love making patterns is because you can use whatever stuff you have on hand…beans, pasta, buttons, rocks, coins, any small object that looks fun and interesting to you. Most of all, I love patterns because they are everywhere and they are MATH!


But why make patterns? What do they have to do with math? Non-math teachers (and, sadly, even some math teachers) look at me rather blankly when I begin to rave on about patterns and how great they are and how much fun it is…”What on earth does that have to do with math?” they always ask.

  • You add, right? When you add, whether you realize it or not, you’re using patterns. Try adding a big column of numbers, like from your check register, and notice how you do it. Chances are that you do not laboriously add 6 + 3 + 4. Instead, looking at those same three numbers, you probably add 6 + 4 first to make 10 and then you add the 3 onto that to get 13. When you do that you are using patterns. In elementary school it’s often called “making tens” or “partners of ten”. Some people really like making tens while others will make twelves or even thirteens. I think it depends, rather mystically, on what numbers resonate with you or, more prosaically, make sense to you. If you’ve never tried adding like this, try it and see what you think.
  • The “dreaded” algebra, at least the way we teach it now, is all about patterns. Before kids learn to solve an algebra equation, they first learn about tables, graphs and patterns of change. The more practice that kids have with making and finding patterns, the easier it will be for them to notice and explain patterns in a linear table like t0 this:
  • chart

When kids do then start solving linear equations, the answers make more sense and the process of solving has more meaning.

  • Multiplication and division are all about patterns. In teaching kids about multiplication we often make a list of the multiples of a given number such as 3. If you write the list out vertically like this:


You start to see all kinds of interesting patterns. Notice how the tens column has two zeroes, three ones, three twos, then four threes…how will this pattern continue as the numbers get bigger? Notice how the ones column goes 3-6-9-2-5-8-1-4-7-0 and then starts over again with 3. How could you describe this pattern? Will it go on indefinitely? I think you can start to see that the more you explore patterns in multiplication, both the more you will find and the more your understanding of numbers will grow!

  • Patterns are all around us and they allow us to make predictions about what will happen next. Time is a pattern, measurement is a pattern (the metric system perhaps more than the American system), money is a pattern, driving is patterning….watching a movie like Bill Nye the Science Guy Patterns will help you see even more. The more you explore patterns, the more you will see them everywhere!

Have fun with math every day!