Playing = Learning

Sometimes it’s great to just let students play.  Here’s an example from my math class today.

We spent some time talking about tessellations and where we find them in real life.  Mostly we talked about design elements for things like kitchen tiles and patio stones.  Then I let them do some creating with pattern blocks after a lesson on reflection and translation.

Here’s what they created:

Stage 1:  They were just messing around with a pattern that looked “cool”. They used a translation for one parallelogram, a reflection for the other and then stuck a triangle in the center to fill up space.

Stage 2:  This was the…hey, what if I made the same thing and then “flipped” it on top of the first one.

Stage 3:  Here’s where they expanded it.

Stage 4:  The tessellation continues….and they just kept building!

Technically they had just completed the question on the “worksheet” that says, “Draw a tessellation using two different polygons.”  But this was a far better activity for them.  Getting a chance to build it with pattern blocks was a far more effective use of their time.

They came to the conclusion they were building a tessellation all on their own.

Some kids opened up Smart Notebook and began playing around with the shapes there.  Rotating them, reflecting them with the “flip” option, and building elaborate patterns and creations.

They also discovered this website all on their own without me asking them to do it. (They particularly liked the “Do It Yourself” button)

Now I have kids using drawings of whales to create tessellations.  I wasn’t supposed to teach that element for two more days.

I love it when kids learn on their own timetable though.  And hey, maybe I don’t need to “teach” it after all if they seek it out all on their own.

The best part about this class was that I left at one point for a few minutes and when I came back my room was completely quiet as they played with pattern blocks, developed Smart tessellations, or looked around on the internet at tessellation websites.

Learning through play and creation is so much better than a worksheet…..

My challenge to my students was in relation to this activity:

If you take a square piece of paper and section it into four pieces that you then tape together with the corners of the square to the center it will make a perfect tessellation nearly every time.  I’ve asked the kids, how does that work???  I know the answer but I’ll be curious to see that they come up with.


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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