If you aren’t using Visual Patterns in your classroom please start tomorrow! This amazing site developed by one of my “math idols” Fawn Nguyen has been one of the most amazing additions to my classroom this year. We do Visual Patterns every Thursday for Tough Pattern Thursday and I would be lying if I said I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel on it more than once.
Wow those early weeks of patterns were tough with kids constantly focused on finding the common difference and then never being able to move forward into writing an expression that was always true for n number of steps. There was so much productive struggle on those early days (I have decided to call it productive struggle to make myself feel better about life) that I didn’t know if we would ever get to a good place with patterns. Each week on their weekly reflection when asked what they needed help with student after student kept writing Tough Pattern Thursday. I thought about changing the warm-up, I really did but Tricky Model Thursday just didn’t have the same ring as Tough Pattern. Instead we kept pushing through and miraculously week after week they started getting better. Yes it took some guidance from me, some leading questions, some paraphrasing, and some modeling but they really started getting better. Even more amazing was the fact that on their weekly reflection Tough Pattern Thursday started moving from what they needed help with most to their favorite part of the week.
And then came last Thursday when one of my students who I will call “Z” brought me to tears with his description of the pattern. What you need to know about Z is that he is an English Language Learner who has been perpetually novice on state assessments and below grade level in both reading and math for as long as he can remember. He gets frustrated in math, not as much because of the numbers but because of the reading and language involved. I have remedied as much of it as I can for him. I gave him a list of the numbers and their spellings to eliminate some of that frustration and we have focused on vocabulary as much as we can to try and make Z feel more successful in class. I have watched him over the course of that last few weeks get more and more comfortable with the pattern each week and started to get the feeling something big was about to happen and then it did. Last Thursday Z’s hand was the first in the air when I asked for thoughts on the pattern. I wasn’t really ready to get at the algebraic part yet and was just looking for thoughts and ideas on how to break the picture apart but as soon as I saw his hand I knew I had to call on him. I expected him to have some thoughts about what came next or how he was thinking about it but that isn’t what I got at all. Instead in his still slightly broken English Z excitedly said “2n-3! 2n-3!”. Without a doubt that is in my top 5 teaching moments thus far. The look on Z’s face and his classmates face were priceless as we checked his expression for accuracy to find it was dead on.
Will Z finish the year on grade level in math this year and will he finally rise above the novice category on the state test I really don’t know. However I do know that he will never forget 2n-3. He will never forget the confidence that came out of math class that day. He will never forget that he too can do and be successful at math. And me, I will never forget that success is much sweeter when it doesn’t come easy. Thanks Fawn for bring Visual Patterns to our classroom it has taught us about more than just math!