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Category: Nifty Numbers, Math Medley and Gellin’ with Geometry Kits

Pattern and the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics

Pattern and the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics

Mathematics is often described as the science of pattern.  Through looking for, reasoning about, and describing numeric and geometric patterns, students come to realize that mathematics reflects order and predictability.  This is a significant discovery because students who understand the power of patterns in math are more confident in their ability to do math.  So when the Common Core State Standards first came out and I didn’t see a whole lot about pattern and patterning activities in the early years, I wondered why.

And I’ve been wondering why until recently when I read a fabulous article about teaching math.  The article was an interview with Bethany Rittle-Johnson, a professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.  Her studies focus on early math and the importance of teaching young children about patterns.  Here’s what she said about why pattern was not included in the standards:

“Patterns were mostly left out of the Common Core Math Standards in the early grades (kindergarten and 1st grade) due to a lack of evidence that they helped children understand later math concepts.”

But then she goes on to say that a lot of research since then proves that pattern should actually be included.  I agree.  In fact, I would argue that there had already been a lot of research underscoring the importance of teaching pattern in the early years yet for some reason, it was ignored.

Here’s why I think teaching pattern in those early years is important:

  • The study of pattern is the foundation of mathematics.  As I mentioned earlier, mathematics is described as the science of pattern.
  • It is the thread that binds all parts of mathematics together.
  • Discovering patterns makes life easier; patterns are predictable.*
  • Searching for patterns trains the brain to look critically.
  • Looking for patterns helps make connections between concepts in mathematics and other curricular areas.
  • Looking for patterns helps encourage students to be persistent and better problem solvers – they know there is predictability in mathematics and that mathematics makes sense.
  • Pattern can be used as a self-check device.
  • Patterns help students when they begin to make generalizations about number.

* to predict is to use known information to predict unknown information

Now, to be fair, the CCSSM Mathematical Practices (MP7 and MP8) do mention looking for patterns.  But pattern isn’t specifically called out in the content standards and I think that’s a mistake.  The word ‘pattern’ needs to be a part of the mathematical vocabulary so much so that looking for patterns becomes a natural part of what students do in math class.

Let me give you some examples.  All of the What Do You Notice? posters that I include in my Family Math Night events are perfect examples of looking for and describing patterns.  What I love about these posters is that they can be accessed on a variety of levels but all of those levels require looking for patterns.  In addition, some of the posters clearly show the connections between arithmetic and geometry making pattern the thread that binds all parts of mathematics together.

On a higher level, describing patterns helps lead us into making generalizations – the foundation for algebra.  By making generalizations, math changes from isolated bits and pieces to an organized and much more manageable body of information.  For example, through patterns, the numbers 1 through 100 are no longer 100 separate and isolated pieces of information to learn.  Instead, students simply need to learn 1 – 20 and then each of the decade names.

So we need to be doing pattern-specific activities in those early years.  Make AB patterns with teddy bears.  Sort blocks into different categories.  And always, always, always use the word ‘pattern’ when describing math.

By the way, I feel so strongly about pattern in the early grades that we devoted a station in our Nifty Numbers kit to it.  It’s important.  Without pattern, math simply does not exist.

Happy patterning~


Getting Folks to Your Family Math Night Event

Getting Folks to Your Family Math Night Event

If I had to pick one refrain that I hear from educators all over the country it’s How do we get families to come to our event?
It’s obviously a common problem.  One that I don’t have a definitive answer for.  But I do have a few ideas that may help.  Some of them are tried and true and a few I just discovered along the way.
Dinner + Math
We all know that parents are busy people.  Any opportunity to make their lives easier and they’re usually in.  So let’s take dinner off their plate (ha!) and feed them.  A spaghetti feed works well.  But if you want to make it easy, bring in pizza or, even better, have a restaurant donate the food.  You can pass out their restaurant coupons at the Family Math Night sending customers in their direction.  It’s a win/win!
Or how about making the event a two-fer.  Offering dinner is one great way to get families out but so is connecting the Family Math Night event with something else.  For example, one year we had the local police department come and put together fingerprint packets for the families.  This was a huge draw.  Families came for the packets and stayed for the math.  And loved both!
Ice Cream Social
Another idea is to link an ice-cream social with your event.  This one is great at the beginning of the school year as the young kinder families are excited to meet new people and the seasoned families love reuniting after the summer break.  The key to this one is offering the treats near the end of the event.  That way families don’t eat and run.
Homework Pass
So for this next one you’ll need buy-in from the teachers.  But, let me tell you, it’s a huge hit.  All student participants who come to the event receive a FREE Homework Pass.  Of course, there are restrictions on its use.  That book report project is off-limits.  But the kids just L-O-V-E getting these passes.  Why not get one night off from writing out the week’s spelling words?  If you’ve purchased our kits then you have the link to customize and print out your own passes.
Extra Credit Coupon
If the FREE Homework Pass just isn’t for you or your staff, what about an EXTRA CREDIT coupon?  I haven’t tried this one yet, but I like the idea.  So much so, that we’ll be designing our own customizable coupon and including the link in your Family Math Night kit.  I’ll let you know when it’s available.
Next in line, the raffle table.  Everybody loves to win something.  Consider setting up a raffle table where, periodically throughout your event, items get raffled off.  I like to stick to ‘mathy’ items like playing cards, calculators, dice, strategy games, etc.  Click here to see samples of some of my previous raffle tables.  And here’s a great idea shared by one of our curriculum consultants – display the raffle items in a nice basket and put it in the office.  Make sure to label it Family Math Night Raffle Items.  It’s sure to bring in some very excited students!
Family Math Night Ambassadors!
And here’s one of my favorites.  Use upper grade students as Family Math Night Ambassadors to promote the event in the classrooms.  Kids get kids excited.  You’ll need to “train” them before sending them off.  But I’ve got you covered.  Use thisPromotion Presentation Sheet to help.  Have students practice a few times with each other so they get comfortable with what to say.  They’ll need to make appointments with the teachers and when they arrive to do their presentation be sure they bring a few sample activities to share (Ladybug clock from our Math Medley kit or a pattern bracelet from our Nifty Numbers kit or geoboards from our Gellin’ with Geometry kit, a raffle prize, the estimation jar…).  I like to send out my Ambassadors a few days before the event.  Another good time to send them out is the day the flyers go home.
Reminder Stickers
Finally, for the little guys, I like to use Reminder Stickers…a small sticker with the event reminder printed on it.  As K-1 students are walking out the classroom door at the end of the day, put a sticker on their shirt/jacket.  These are customizable and print on Avery labels 5163.
These may be ideas for your Family Math Night event, but they can be tailored for just about any event.  If you’ve tried something at your school that works, I’d love to hear about it.  Getting families back to school in the evening can be difficult; if there are ways that work – we all need to know!
And remember, these parent engagement events are just the type of thing that the PTA and Title I funds are looking to support.  So reach out to them.  You’ll be glad you did.
Once your families flock to your Family Math Night event, we’re here to make sure it’s the best event of the year.  Feel free to call or email us about our Nifty Numbers,Math Medley, or Gellin’ with Geometry Family Math Night kits.  And don’t forget to check out our Take-Home kits, Play-N-Take and Make-N-Take.
Hook Them with Geometry

Hook Them with Geometry

One of my goals for the beginning of the new school year was to get my students excited about math from the moment they walked in the door.  To do this I started our math lessons in the area (no pun intended!) of geometry through hands-on activities and projects.  I discovered that through allowing kids to design, create, and build – something all kids love – I could sneak in important ideas in math.

But the other thing I discovered was that it was a great way to build their mathematical confidence right from the very start.  And in a subject area where too many kids feel they aren’t “good” enough, this confidence can go a long way.

So I’ve listed below some activities you can do to support the geometry standards.  Most of the activities require the use of manipulatives so you’ll want to make sure that you give students enough time to “free explore” before getting into the lesson.  This helps minimize distractions with the manipulatives when you’re ready to focus the lesson.  While students are exploring, walk around the room, ask questions about their work and talk about the math you see. But make it pretty informal.  I love how you used two triangles to create a parallelogram!  And have students who are interested share their work with the class.  Again, you’re building that confidence which is so important for success in math.

In addition to the ideas below, you can also tap into some of my Family Math Night Collaborative Projects which lend themselves well to a classroom environment.  These are great hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) projects.  If you have a buddy class, the older students can help the younger ones with their part of the project.  This is a great way for them to get to know each other while doing something fun and educational!


Activity 1 – Shapes:  Students create shapes according to the attributes you give them.  Ex:  Design a closed shape with exactly three sides.  Share samples, compare different shapes and have the students come up with the definition for ‘triangle’.

Activity 2 – Symmetry:  Put one geoband down the center of the geoboard.  Students create a design on one side of their geoboard.  Their partner needs to use the other side to create the mirror symmetry.  (You may need to start by limiting the number of geobands used.)

Pattern Blocks

Activity 1:  Students place pattern blocks inside hinged mirrors then re-create what they see in the mirror.

Activity 2:  Students create task cards for each other to solve.  They do this by creating a design with the blocks on triangle paper, tracing the perimeter and cutting it out.  They then re-trace just the perimeter on construction paper.  These are now the task cards.  As a variation, have students write clues such as the number of hexagons needed.


Activity 1:  Students use all 7 of their tangram pieces to fill in the design on their task cards (see Grandfather Tang’s Story for task card ideas).

Activity 2:  Students create polygons using a specific number of tangram pieces and fill in the chart (scroll down to ‘Tangrams’ and click on the banner link).

Straws and Twist Ties*

Activity:  Provide students with straws and twist ties.  Let them build whatever they want.  Talk about the attributes of the shapes you see.  Discuss the difference between 2-D and 3-D shapes.

*I like to use cocktail stirrers and cut up pipe cleaners if I can’t find twist ties.

Another fun activity for 5th graders and up that reinforces the use of a protractor is my Hunting for Buried Treasure project.  I also have some videos of geometry projects on my YouTube Channel.

Finally, if you’re looking for a fun way to involve parents in some of these hands-on activities, there’s our Gellin’ with Geometry Family Math Night kit.  Some of the activities described above are in the kit along with lots more fun stuff!

I know many of you are already in your classrooms planning out the year.  Since we have to teach geometry anyway, why not switch it up a bit and start with something different?  I know your students will love it!


Family Math Night Make-N-Take Kit

Family Math Night Make-N-Take Kit


We all know that when parents get involved in their child’s education, student learning increases.  What better way to get parents actively involved in important skills than through fun and engaging games that reinforce classroom learning?  That’s the idea behind the newest addition to our Family Math Night kit series:  Make-N-Take Station Kit.

Designed to give students practice in important number skills, our Make-N-Take Kit is the perfect way to make sure your K-5 students continue the learning at home.

Similar to our Play-N-Take Station Kit, families will go home with game boards and the game pieces needed to play the games over and over.  And all games come INDIVIDUALLY packaged saving you a lot of time and effort!

What’s fun and unique about our Make-N-Take Kit is that families play a role in making their game boards and game pieces!  They love that!  And teachers and parents love the extra skills practice kids will receive in a fun and creative way – all aligned to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.

I invite you to check out this short video where I describe the kit contents and the mathematical learning involved.  As always, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.  Our number one priority is to help you host a fun and successful event.


Beginning Level

Balloon Bunch Capture and Go 4 the Win reinforce beginning place value, addition and subtraction to 20, and making a 10.CCSSM:  K.NBT.A.1; K.OA.A.1; K.OA.A.2; K.OA.A.4; K.OA.A.5; 1.OA.A.1; 1.OA.B.4; 1.OA.C.5; 1.OA.C.6; 1.NBT.B.2

Intermediate Level

Place Value Shuffle and Number Shuffle reinforce place value to the hundreds place, greater than/less than, even/odd numbers, and basic addition and subtraction skills.CCSSM:  2.NBT.A.1; 2.NBT.A.3; 2.NBT.A.4; 2.OA.B.2

Advanced level

Number Shuffle and Cake Walk reinforce place value to the hundreds place, even/odd numbers, multiples, factors, prime and composite numbers, 1- and 2-digit multiplication, division facts, and fractions on a number line.CCSSM:  4.OA.B.4; 4.NBT.A.1; 4.NBT.A.2; 4.NBT.A.3;4.NBT.B.5; 4.NBT.B.6; 4.NF.A.1; 4.NF.A.2; 4.NF.B.3; 5.NBT.A.1