Last year, a large fraction of the small amount of math that Katie did in Kindergarten consisted of basic patterns. “Red, blue, red, blue, red” what comes next? And the more advanced version of that with three repeating colors or objects. Today, I happened to ask Katie what they had been learning about in math class recently. Then we had the following conversation:
K: We’ve been doing patterns.
Me: Like the kind you did last year, “A, B, C, A, B, C…”
K: Well we sometimes do “A, A, B” or “A, B, B” – but anyway, they’re so easy.
Me: Are they always easy or do you sometimes get tricky ones?
K: There are no tricky patterns – they’re all easy!
Me: What about the pattern I gave you recently where you first had to add 1, then 2, then 3…, that was a bit tricky for you.
K: That’s not a pattern!
K: A pattern has to repeat.
Me: So 2, 4, 6, 8, … is not a pattern?
K: Well…(clearly thinking) I guess that’s a pattern because the 2 repeats – you add 2 each time.
Me: I see. But 1, 3, 6, 10, … is not a pattern?
K: (looking confused and frustrated) Oh, I don’t know. All I know is that my teacher said that a pattern has to repeat!
My main issue with the way Katie has been learning about patterns in school is not so much with this definition, but rather with the paucity of the examples. If kids understand the pattern “A,B,C” then they also understand “dog, cat, mouse” and there’s no need to give them fifty variations of this but with different objects. I do think that the way the word “pattern” can be used in math and similar disciplines can be hard to define, but we can definitely give kids the flavor of it and let them play around with the concept.
“Triangle, square, circle, triangle, square, circle,…” is not a geometric pattern, but a fractal is. Arithmetic patterns do not have to be computationally complicated to be rich and interesting. For example, I love the patterns discussed in this post, and they were presented to (and understood by!) kindergarteners. Why do schools feel the need to turn everything about math class into a boring routine?