Learning: Spotting Pattern Everywhere

I like this for a maths department motto: “Spotting Pattern Everywhere”. (Thanks to a former workplace for that one. I still love it.) Something I was reading today mentions that a lot of learning, not just in maths, is about spotting patterns. People love making meaning out of the things they see around them. The consciousness researcher Daniel Bor was interviewed in Time magazine talking about this. He calls the human brain “ravenous” for solving problems and making patterns. He says, “We get streams of pleasure when we find something that can really help us understand some deep pattern.”

Bor mentioned people who want answers to the question, “Why?” “The way I approach my job, it’s like trying to solve a really big fuzzy crossword puzzle and when you do put in that new clue and see the deeper pattern, that’s incredibly pleasurable.” I took this as encouragement to help students approach learning maths like a puzzle to be fit together. This could make learning more pleasurable for my students’ brains.

Bor was asked, “If our brains are hungry for information, then why do we tend to see learning as a chore and fail to recognize it as a huge source of pleasure?” He replied, “I don’t know. Obviously, more intelligent people get more pleasure from spotting these patterns, but I think almost every normal person does this. I think it’s a pretty pervasive thing but it’s almost as if we can’t notice it because it’s so pervasive.”

Ways to Make Maths Learning Like a Puzzle

1. Show a diagram and ask, What does this tell you?

I was about to teach about area and volume scale factors of similar shapes. I put this on the board and asked students to discuss what it might mean.

volume sf

2. Ask students to watch you do a maths procedure in silence, then explain to their partner what it was.

Here’s a great example from the nrich website where you watch a very short video of someone summing a sequence, then students are asked to explain what just happened.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for tweeting about this today and making me think more about it.

How do you make learning into a puzzle?