Materials to Support Patterns and Algebra (page 2)
Before children can create patterns, they must be able to sort and classify. One of the goals for pre-K through second-grade children is to “sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties” (NCTM, 2000, p. 90). Teddy bear counters, for instance, allow children to classify by color or size. Contrast this to intellectual kits created by a long-time early childhood teacher, Eve Malo. These kits, created around a theme such as kitchen gadgets or office desk items, provide endless opportunities for classifying objects into sets. Additionally, children’s interest is often piqued by classifying objects they see the adults in their lives using.
Children also need trays to sort sets into (muffin tins, deviled egg plates, egg cartons). To add interest and a sense of importance to the activity, teachers can use aesthetically pleasing sorting trays (wooden manacala trays, crystal relish dishes).
As children become more proficient in classifying objects, introduce the concept of Venn diagrams. Venn diagrams are used to identify common attributes between different sets. Two or three overlapping circles can be created with plastic tubing, string, or inner tubes.
Making patterns begins with understanding the unit (AB). Either the unit repeats (ABABAB) or it grows (ABAABAAAB). Teachers designing pattern activities can plan color, shape, size, and spatial orientation patterns (Taylor-Cox, 2003). Some patterning materials for young children include the following:
- American Indian beads for duplicating or creating patterns (Sgarlotti, 2004). For a less expensive option, make pattern necklaces or bracelets out of pieces of colored straws cut into 1⁄4" segments.
- Manipulatives (seashells, unifix cubes, small blocks, or paper chains) and pattern cards.
- Stamps for creating patterns.
After children have mastered the recreation of a pattern and the creation of their own unique patterns, they are ready to describe or read their patterns, draw their patterns, and finally to record their patterns using numbers or letters. A variety of different items can be used for sorting, classifying, counting, and patterning. You will want to choose the material based upon the children's interests and their level of development. Rotating the items can spark new interest and present new classifying and patterning challenges.
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