Visual Patterns… Now What?!

If the response to my post from Tuesday is any indication, people on the Internet Machine love Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns.


Let’s say you’re one of these folks, and your students are now rocking this sweet set of challenges. Now what?!


Well, for one thing, don’t stop! These are rich enough problems to keep bringing them before your students. (In fact, the real fun begins when we break out quadratics, including my personal favorite: patterns involving triangular and other figurate numbers.)

A Means To Another End

But I would offer that Visual Patterns are not only an end in themselves, but also a means to another end.

  • “An end in themselves” because, let’s face it, they’re awesome all on their own.
  • “A means to another end” because they provide students with experience in approaching mathematics through multiple representations. And this visual-verbal-numerical-graphical-algebraic tag team effort translates to new scenarios far more powerfully than a single representation would.

This last point was on full display this morning in Math B (eighth grade) as my students worked on Dan Meyer’s High School Graduation task.

Here’s a sample of how things went down:

now-what.002 now-what.003

Look familiar? I sure hope so.

After several rounds of Visual Patterns, students have developed a framework for translating a text-dense, potentially-intimidating task into something they can explore, something they can understand. In fact, once students had the table of values (which was admittedly a team effort), they were off to the races.

While students in past years were able to answer some of the numerical questions (when did the name-reading begin/end), they typically struggled to do anything more than that, and were at a loss when it came to writing an equation to model the scenario.

A Well Worn Path

So why were my students this year able to hack it? Because we’ve worn that visual-verbal-numerical-graphical-algebraic path so well in just a couple of weeks that moving from one representation to the next—and turning back to make connections among various forms—is becoming second nature.

And while there’s more than one way to foster this kind of connected thinking, I’ve found Visual Patterns to be among the most engaging, powerful, and effective.


As you can tell, I’ve had fun with Visual Patterns this week and last. I have one more post in me on this topic, then I promise I’ll shift my rambling to something else. 🙂

Leave a Reply