I am a HUGE advocate for using manipulatives in the classroom… at all grade levels.
I have not always thought this. Early on in my career when I went from teaching Algebra I to 4th grade, I saw teachers in my elementary building using manipulatives as I would walk by and think, “Why are they playing with toys? We don’t have time for that!” Luckily, over the course of my career and constantly learning to grow as an educator and mathematician myself, but opinion on the use of manipulatives has changed. I cannot imagine teaching K-8 mathematics without the idea of a hands-on, concrete approach. Students need to feel, manipulate, and engage in the math before they can make meaning of the abstract stage of learning.
Over the course of the next few weeks I will be writing about my favorite manipulatives to use in the math classroom.
Starting off, let’s explore PATTERN BLOCKS.
In a lot of schools I visit, I see pattern blocks being used in primary grades. Pattern blocks are generally used for geometry, patterns, or to create pictures out of them. Students LOVE using pattern blocks to create images. It’s a way we can incorporate math and art together. You really see joy in students’ faces when they get to be creative in math.
I’m here to tell you that pattern blocks do not have to stay in the primary grades and should not just be living in the geometry world. In the intermediate grades (3-6) teachers can use pattern blocks to teach concepts of fractions, angle measurements, symmetry, and scale to name a few. Middle school teachers can use pattern blocks to work on the various translations.
Over the course of my career using pattern blocks became my favorite manipulatives to use to get my students working with fractions. The basic set of pattern blocks include a yellow regular hexagon, a red trapezoid, a blue rhombus/parallelogram, a green equilateral triangle, an orange square, and a tan rhombus. Did you know each side of the pattern blocks measures 1 inch? (except the long side of the red trapezoid) Within the last 8 or so years two new shaped pattern blocks have been created and released. The brown right trapezoid and the purple right triangle have been a much needed addition to the pattern block set.
Using pattern blocks, my 4th grade students that you see in the pictures below were able to develop a strong sense of:
- parts & wholes
- unit fractions
- fraction equivalency
- comparing fractions
- computation with fractions
Below you’ll find a free download that I created during my time in the classroom that I used to walk the students through identifying what each pattern block represented in relationship to the whole for that set.
Fractions with Pattern Blocks UPDATED FREE DOWNLOAD
If you don’t have pattern blocks in your classroom, don’t fret… there are many websites that have interactive pattern blocks.
Didax : This site allows you to place the pattern blocs next to each other, but not on top or layer them.
Cool Math 4 Kids : On this one you select images and drag the pattern blocks in to make the picture. It also includes the option to use a protractor to work on angles. You can layer the pattern blocks on this website.
Math Learning Center : On this one you select images and drag the pattern blocks in to make the picture. It also includes the option to use a protractor to work on angles. You can layer the pattern blocks on this website. You can also create a picture and share it with your class with a code or with a link. Math Learning Center also allows you to change the size of the pattern blocks with the tool bar at the bottom.
Toy Theater : This site allows you to place the pattern blocks next to each other, but not on top or layer them. On this one you select images and drag the pattern blocks in to make the picture.
Braining Camp : You need a membership for this site. It’s honestly, my favorite virtual manipulative site. You can layer the pattern blocks on this website. You can also create a picture and share it with your class with a code or with a link. They also have prebuilt activities that you can share with your class. As I was going through the activities, there’s only one fraction one using pattern blocks.
Room Recess : Here you can select images and drag the pattern blocks in to make the picture. You can layer the pattern blocks on this website.
Mathigon : Mathigon is part of the Polypad family. You can place the shapes on top of one another, but there are no pictures to try to create using the pattern blocks.
If you want to extend your students’ fun with pattern blocks, check out Dan Finkel’s Upscale Pattern Blocks or 21st Century Pattern Blocks on Amazon.