area games geometry investigation pattern reflection scale

Upscale Pattern Blocks

Update: April 13th, 2022

Upscale Pattern Blocks are now available!

Now you can get your hands on a set of blocks through the amazing and creative folks at Math for Love. Click here for details!!

(If you are not familiar with Math for Love, poke around the website. Along with the Upscale Pattern Blocks, there are numerous other curiosities for home-based and school-based mathematical exploration.)


First off, I hope you are well. This post represents a portion of my attempt to remain “well enough” in the midst of tremendous uncertainty. Most of my time is spent talking about the teaching and learning of mathematics, something that seems to have ground to a necessary halt in recent days. Given our collective circumstance, the time feels as good as ever to talk about a little project I’ve been working on, and ask for a smidge of help.

The Blocks

Recent access to a laser cutter and a kindergartener got me wondering. I began to play with a few possibilities. One of the fun things that fell out was a set of scaled pattern blocks I’m calling, “Upscale Pattern Blocks”. Essentially, they are pattern blocks scaled in three different sizes. The sizes interacted in some very interesting ways, and after some test cutting and multiple trips to the craft supply store, I ended up with a really fun result.

investigation tasks trigonometry

Problem(s) with Triangles

My provincial curriculum scatters trigonometry throughout several high school courses. Right-angled trig appears first as an isolated experience at the Grade 10 level. From there, the two pathways in Grade 11 cover the Sine and Cosine laws, but only one stream (Pre-calculus) continues into the idea of the unit circle and eventually the connections between the side ratios of right-angled triangles, the unit circle, the wave functions, and trigonometric identities. Since trig is doled out in piecemeal portions each semester, I often find that the hidden beauty of trig is masked by things like SOH CAH TOA. (Or, if you dare to place special triangles on the unit circle, SYR CXR TYX 1).

investigation scale surface area volume

Experiencing Scale in Higher Dimensions

A colleague and I have often bemoaned our attempts to teach the concept of scale factor in higher dimensions. A topic that has such beautiful and elegant patterns and symmetries between the scale factors consistently seems to sail directly past the experience of our students. I have tried enacting several tasks with the students including some favourites from the #MTBoS (Mathalicious 1600 Pennsylvania and Giant Gummy Bear). Each time, the thinking during the task seems to dissipate when new problems are offered. It just seems like students have a hard time trusting the immense rate that surface area and volume can grow (or shrink). In the past, I had used digital images of cubes growing after having their dimensions scaled by 2, 3, 4… etc.; students seemed to grasp the pattern yet under-appreciate the girth of 8, 27, 64… etc. times as many cubes. 

classroom structure investigation pattern problem posing

Problem Posing with Pills

My class always welcomes conjectures. This is made explicit on the very first day of the semester. This goes for everything from grade nine to grade twelve. As the grades advance, the topics have us venturing into increasingly abstract concepts, but conjectures are always honoured. 

Certain class structures promote conjecturing more than others. Students offer questions during lectures, but they are often of a surface variety. They notice a pattern that has occurred in three straight examples, or think they have discovered a short-cut. I don’t like using tricks, but if they are “discovered” or “re-invented” (to borrow a term from Piaget and genetic epistemology), then we use them. 

investigation numerical flexibility reflection

Algorithms and Flexibility

I was given a section of enriched grade nine students this semester. I decided very early on that the proper way to enrich a group of gifted students is not through speed and fractions. They came to me almost done the entire course in half the allotted time. This essentially alleviated all issues of time pressure.

The beautiful thing about this is we are able to “while” on curiosities that come up during the class (Jardine, 2008). I am not afraid to stop and smell the mathematical roses–so to speak. In a recent tweet I explained it as the ability to stop and examine pockets of wonder. This has been a blessing because our curriculum has become far less of a path to be run and more of the process of running it.

discourse formative assessment investigation linear functions pattern reflection relations whiteboards

The Discourse Effect

This semester, I’ve been attempting to infuse my courses with more opportunities for students to collaborate while solving problems. This post is designed to examine the shift in student disposition throughout the process.

I have noticed an increased conceptual understanding almost across the board and this is reflected in the differing solutions on summative assessments. It is also nice to see their marks  grow on these unit tests. I do not believe that paper-and-pencil tests are the best venues for displaying conceptual understanding, but it is awesome when the two intertwine.

factors fractions games investigation logic tasks

Fraction War Task

A while ago I wrote a post on embedding atomic skills into tasks so that the basic skills are developed and used as tools of mathematics rather than the ultimate goal of mathematics. I try to develop tasks that follow this framework. I want the student to choose a pathway of thought that enables them to use basic skills, but doesn’t focus entirely on them.

Recently, I was reading Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic: Implications of Piaget’s Theory by Constance Kamii and came across one of her games that she plays with first graders in her game-driven curriculum.

investigation set theory tasks

Sorting Set(s)

Set Theory, Counting Methods, and Probability are probably my three favourite topics to teach. For the first time under our new curricular framework, I got to teach these topics to a group of seniors. I decided to build up large themes and understandings through introductory tasks; my goal was to create an “unflippable” entry point where students could work together to complete tasks and filter out necessary details such as rules, notation, etc. I began our study of Set Theory with this task.

The students were introduced to the idea of what a set is. They also were given some elementary verbiage. I wanted them to become comfortable using words like set, subset, and disjoint throughout the task. I did not introduce them to the idea of intersection and union–those were to be formalized through the task.

investigation Pythagorean theorem

Pythagorean Triples Part 1: Student Strategies

The school year is winding down for me and my project-based grade ten classes. I have found myself looking at the curriculum more and more as the final day approaches. I was told by many that content coverage would be impossible in a project-based setting; this only made me more anxious. Compounding this problem, I needed a substitute teacher for a day and do not like throwing them into a project setting without any briefing. In order to accommodate them, I chose to photocopy a worksheet on the Pythagorean Theorem for my students while I was gone. When I alerted them of this, the response was clear:

graphing investigation pattern

Using Real-Time Graphs

I have a class of grade nine students this semester that are part of a stretch program. This essentially means that they get 160 hours to complete a 120 hour course. The class is designed to accommodate the transition from elementary school (Grades 1-8) into high school (Grades 9-12) for those students who feel uncomfortable with their math ability.

It also affords me a few extra days here and there to stress certain topics. One of my foci this semester has been pattern modelling. Essentially, we work with various patterns and develop generic rules to describe their behaviour. Linear relations will be our finish line, but I am making sure to provide ample concreteness before abstracting into notations.