When the student is ready, the manipulatives will appear.

L continues to demonstrate to me just how much she will gravitate toward a particular material/concept when she’s ready to have mastered it. We’ve had the Melissa and Doug pattern blocks for awhile now, and beyond having quickly matched up the blocks with the pre-printed patterns and engaging in one free-play session at the kitchen table, she hasn’t shown any interest in them. I, on the other hand, have materials at the ready! In particular, I downloaded The Math Learning Center‘s sets of pattern block lessons to meet the Common Core State Standards, both grades K-2 and 3-5. I downloaded both sets because a) L likes to whip through materials quite quickly, and b) I like to see concepts in developmental sequence so I know what types of prompts and questions to use. Anyway, they’d been printed, three-hole-punched, and were sitting in a binder. Just waiting for when L wanted to do pattern blocks again…

… which came today! We use the Ikea Trofast system for many of our learning materials. I use address labels on the drawers to identify the materials within a given drawer. I was guiding her to choose a puzzle when she noticed the pattern blocks drawer and asked if she could do that instead. The drawer, by the way, has been in the EXACT SAME SPOT for months. I have no idea if she’s ever noticed it before. In any case, you want to do pattern blocks? Absolutely!

Pattern block drawer in use!

Pattern block drawer in use!

She had already completed the templates that came with the blocks in the first place and handily enough, there is a rocket ship template in the K-2 lessons packet (pages 9-13 of the pdf). I grabbed that and started her on her way. She quickly built the other four templates (the baby is shown in the picture).

I then wanted to capitalize on her interest with the blocks to push her thinking a bit. I used page 35 of the K-2 packet. I skipped the “game play” versions of the lesson because she’s already drawn towards being competitive, and given her creativity and quick understanding, she’s often better than us at lots of things! I don’t want to feed into that any more than is naturally going to occur. However, I did like the idea of trying to find the minimum number of pieces required to fill in a given space. I used the top of the page without any direction for minimizing the number of pieces used. Instead, we started by looking at if we could fill the entire space with just one shape of block (sorted by color on the right-hand side). We found that the only block you could use exclusively to fill the shape was green (triangle). We then experimented with different ways to use multiple colors simultaneously to fill the space. We noticed that it took 5, 6, or 7, depending on the blocks you used in combination.

(Please forgive my upside-down writing!)

(Please forgive my upside-down writing!)

I then used the bottom half of the sheet to introduce the idea of minimizing the number of pieces used. We used a similar process, but noticed something about the greens. We noticed that there were some places where you could substitute one blue (rhombus) in for two greens (triangle). By stacking the two greens on top of the blue, L was able to see that each green was a half of a blue. Two halves equals one whole. We repeated the process with yellows (hexagons) and reds (trapezoids). In the end, L found two solutions that used six blocks. She chose one to replicate and capture by coloring the spaces underneath each of the blocks the appropriate color.

Capturing her solution

Capturing her solution

So, while we haven’t dealt with the idea of symmetry yet, and I also want to move to an outlined shape with no guide lines in it, she was able to apply some excellent critical thinking and reasoning to about an hour’s worth of work. As is my theme these days, I could have continued worrying about when she’d do pattern blocks – and what holes am I leaving in her education?  – and what will happen when, when, when… – or I could just breathe deeply and trust that I’ve created a learning environment for her that’s hands-on and engaging and she will lead the way when it’s time.

Gosh, if only I could remember that overnight. =)