5 ways to extend thinking about… pattern

One of the things I love best about mastery teaching is how creative I get to be when generating activities and particularly, when planning how to extend students who already ‘get it’. In days gone by, extension in maths often involved bigger numbers or the ol’ faithful… word problems – 2-steps for even more of a challenge! However, a maths mastery approach requires more creativity and thought, extending through complexity rather than amplification. It’s a fantastic ethos but I know I found it hard when I was new to maths mastery to switch over to this way of thinking. What I needed were some concrete examples to help get me started. So here are my top 5 ideas for extending learning about pattern with young children.

Let’s say some of your students have shown you that they can confidently recognise and continue AB, ABB and AAB patterns, generate some patterns of their own and talk about them. They’re spot on for age related expectations but you know that they can still move on with their learning. You could progress to ABC, ABBC, AABC, ABCD patterns etc. but much of that is really just more of the same thing. I’d argue that you are challenging their working memory, not their understanding of pattern. Try these 5 ways to check their understanding of pattern and see what they can do with it.

#1 Circle patterns

Very often, we show patterns in straight lines and it presents a new challenge for students to see or generate the patterns that they know in a circle or frame. Additional complexity can be introduced by asking your student to complete a circular pattern within a fixed number of spaces. As you can see in the example below, the student has created a super repeating pattern with a 4 unit repeat. However, they are about to run into trouble as their pattern does not fit the template. This provides a perfect opportunity for discussion and a problem to solve with a good level of cognitive load.

#2 Patterns in 3 dimensions

This is a perfect opportunity for one of those little ‘learning nudges’. Ask your students to use connecting cubes to create imaginative patterns – you can see below examples of a cross, a square and a zig-zag. Then ask your students: “Can you get the pattern to go up?”

#3 Spotting errors

A student who securely understands pattern should be able to spot an error in a given pattern, talk about the mistake and then fix it. Try providing patterns with deliberate mistakes in for them to talk about and fix, or ask them to work with a less secure student as a peer tutor.

#4 Generalising the pattern

When students are able to generalise a concept, it means that they can take what they know and use it in different contexts, even if the new context looks dissimilar. In the example below, the student was given an ABB colour repeating pattern and a pile of natural materials that bore no resemblance to the colour pattern. The student was able to take the materials and create an ABB pattern regardless, proving that they had generalised the concept.

#5 Forced creativity

This idea came from one of my students who told me that she needed more than one colour of modelling clay to make a pattern. “Do you really need another colour to make a pattern?” I asked, “Yes.” she answered firmly. It made me realise that perhaps I had focused too much on colour patterns, or even just using ‘different’ things to create patterns, such as the lovely natural materials available for pattern work. So I did that annoying teacher thing where I declined giving her any more modelling clay and challenged her to create a pattern with the one thing she had. This forced her to be creative and really think about her understanding of pattern. You can see below what she eventually generated:

This pattern also generated some lovely talk about 2D and 3D shapes and highlighted a misconception about circles and spheres.

So… there you have 5 early maths mastery ways that you can use to extend your students’ learning about patterns! The list is by no means exhaustive but will hopefully help to get your own creative juices flowing for mastery extensions. I’d love to hear about your ideas and experiences, or if you’ve tried any of these activities in the comments below.

If you need ideas and resources for teaching pattern, or further guidance, you might be interested in this Early Maths Mastery unit of work on Pattern, perfect for the autumn term (the same planning is also available on TpT without the references to the UK Early Years Foundation Stage Profile).


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