One the most common things I hear from teachers is about not knowing how to best utilize manipulatives. Many schools have a variety of manipulatives ready to be used, but they often go unused because teachers are unsure of how to use them to their fullest potential. Look no further. I’m got something special for you!

Thursday Tool School will feature various math manipulatives that are common in schools. This weekly post will provide ideas for ways to get the most out of the tools. I will feature a new manipulative each month, so be sure to stay tuned. This month’s featured manipulatives are pattern blocks.

Pattern blocks. I know what you’re thinking. When you inherited your classroom, there were gobs of these random shapes, maybe even a few buckets of them. You thought to yourself, “What am supposed to do with these? We only teach geometry and shapes for three weeks!” Well, did you know that pattern blocks can be used for more than just your three-week geometry unit? Pattern blocks can be used all year long!

Here’s a short explanation of the purpose of pattern blocks. A set of pattern blocks contains six basic shapes: a yellow hexagon, a red trapezoid, a blue rhombus, a green triangle, an orange square, and a beige rhombus. The pieces are proportional to each other which extends the number of ways in which they can be used. In addition to analyzing the characteristics of two-dimensional shapes, they can also be used to teach fractions. How’s that for a non-standard fraction visual!

Today’s activity involves critical thinking with pattern blocks. This activity can be used year round and makes a great starter activity, especially during that three-week geometry unit. The only prerequisite skills needed are some basic vocabulary terms related to shapes, i.e. sides, angles, congruent, equal, etc.

**Here’s how the activity works:**

1. Display the puzzler on a white board or wall.

2. Ask the students, “What’s the common attribute?”

3. Provide think time.

4. Ask students to “turn and talk” to a shoulder partner, face partner, neighbor, or classmate to discuss the answer.

5. Have students share their responses with the class.

**Important questions to ask: **

a. What vocabulary is important here?

b. What’s the common attribute of the left side?

c. What’s the common attribute of the right side?

d. What’s the common attribute of the shapes in the middle, or the intersection, of the two circles?

e. Why is there a shape on the outside of both circles? What does this mean? (It is a part of the set but does not meet the inclusion criteria for either circle.)

Once students get the hang of the activity, have them create their own puzzlers– great menu activity. Using their creations, you validate your students as mathematicians and sense makers and expand your pool of puzzlers.

**Free Resource Alert:**Grab a free pack of these puzzlers to get you started here or click the picture above.

An InLinkz Link-up

This is a part of The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative’s November Teacher Talk Link-Up

Deann Marin says

What a great way to help your students learn fractions.

Shametria Routt says

Agreed! Pattern blocks have so many uses!