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Recognizing patterns—possibly in more than one attribute at a time—and recognizing the attributes themselves are the two important issues here.

While this activity sits squarely in the mathematics curriculum, with patterns and logic, you can also think of it as an exercise in the scientific method. The patterns you see are the data. The extensions you propose are the experiments that test your hypotheses. When the computer responds that your person does not fit the pattern, it is reporting that the experiment rejects your hypothesis. In a second attempt, if your new person fits the pattern, does the experiment prove that you understand the pattern? Not necessarily, but you may feel more confident that your idea of the pattern is correct. Learning to distinguish attributes is how we, like scientists, come to figure out the world.

Not many grade school students are ready to look at this activity in this way, but its aim is to build this kind of logic. Practice now with different kinds of attributes will help all students later in life—whether they become scientists or simply good citizens—to be skeptical of the thousand unreasoned arguments that will bombard them every day.

This activity comes with a wide range of possible patterns, from simple alternations to difficult mixtures of multiple attributes. Videotape 16 in the Teaching Math K-4 series shows kindergartners working with simple alternations. Complex mixtures of multiple attributes are more appropriate for older students.

The tape also shows an important pedagogical issue: the younger the students, the more important the concrete representation of the pattern is—these young students even act out the pattern. Concrete representations with a higher level of difficulty are also appropriate for more experienced students.

See the overview to Logic Patterns.

Videotape 16 in the Teaching Math K-4 series shows Bonnie Edwards' preK–K class in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working with people patterns. You can find a description of the lesson and additional information on page H-3 of the Teaching Math guidebook.

Back to People Patterns