This post originally appeared on the blog Hanging Around in Primary.
I love using hands-on centers during my guided math time. What I don’t love is marking the worksheet follow-up pages that often accompany centers. The more I reflect on my practice, the more I am coming to realize that there does not need to be a worksheet to keep kids accountable.
Math centers and math activities are a huge part of my math instruction. Students need kinesthetic experiences as much as possible, especially in first grade, where I have spent most of my career. My first math unit is always Patterning. That is the one area in math that students all seem to come to first grade with an ability to do. They can easily recognize and create patterns, so it sets them up for success in math right from the start and helps them approach math with a growth mindset.
Patterns are Everywhere
Patterns are everywhere and a pattern scavenger hunt is a perfect spot to start! Give your students a clipboard and have them look for and draw patterns they see.
Use All Your Manipulatives
Put out all of your math manipulatives and loose parts to inspire kids to pattern.
As teachers, we want to document their work as proof of learning. Having students draw to show their work is one way to do it or giving them a worksheet is another. Lately, though, I have embraced technology and have my students frequently show their learning by taking a picture on our class iPads.
All of those pictures need a home and I found the app that makes this process super simple. Seesaw – The Learning Journal is a digital portfolio and so much more. I only use the app the store their work in their own digital folder, which I can access later for planning, assessing and reporting. Click the link below to check it out yourself.
Patterning Centers Targeting Specific Skills
When I am ready to target particular expectations, I somewhat move away from using any manipulatives and use more directed centers aimed at addressing particular expectations. My favorite go-to manipulative is pattern blocks when it comes to patterning.
My class loves clip cards! These cards challenge students to name the pattern and another option asks students to extend the pattern, both first-grade expectations you can address with this one activity.
The ability to look closely at a pattern and discriminate between patterns and non-patterns is an important skill to develop. You can use these cards as a sorting center — worksheet free— or many students can use the same cards and color their responses in.
The Make It! cards are more open-ended patterning activities. The cards provide criteria for pattern creation but allow students to create with the blocks of their choosing. It is differentiated so that your students are able to show what they are able to do using the same manipulatives so students of all abilities can work together and show what they know.
Post-its are another great tool for quick and simple check in’s. Rather than using a worksheet use a post-it and have student’s record their answer on it. You can do a simple checkmark on the post-it to show you have seen it and they understood the concept or take a picture of the post-it and the center.
Recognizing pattern rules and expressing a pattern in terms of the rule is more challenging for my students. This is a great activity to purposefully pair stronger readers with weaker ones to create a more successful center time while sorting patterns with pattern rules.
Sorting out patterns by name helps students realize that any pattern can be represented in many ways. They are amazed that there is more than one card for each pattern name. They have an idea that there is only one correct answer and thus only one way to make each pattern. It helps to solidify the idea that there is not one right answer.
While there is some problem solving evident using these centers, it is not the focus. Instead, we work through pattern block problem-solving challenges. Project these pages on your interactive whiteboard. This saves paper and students can do the activity with blocks at their desks.
I am not advocating doing away with paper pencil tasks completely. I am advocating finding new ways to document learning. One added bonus I am finding during center time is students returning to centers they have already worked at. This has not been the case in the past when they completed a center and accompanying worksheet. When they complete the worksheet they are “done” in their mind. Students saw no reason to return and work there again.
I hope you have found a bit of inspiration here for your own Kindergarten or Grade 1 patterning unit. It is a great math unit to break away from traditional methods and let the kids surprise you.
If you are looking for more hands-on centers, check out this post with ideas for teaching Geometry.
Until next time,
Christina Hermer is a 1st Grade teacher in Ontario, Canada. She has been teaching since 1994 and has had the good fortune to work mostly in first grade. She enjoys creating curriculum resources for learners that are hands-on and engaging, which can be found in her TpT store. Christina loves to share about how she uses those resources and other practical teaching tips on her blog Hanging Around in Primary. You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for lots of teacher tips, tricks, and ideas!