Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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IntroductionLogic PatternsNumber PatternsWord Patterns



Word Patterns

Patterns can be in language too! Often, in mathematics education, we forget how many connections we can make to language arts. The metrical patterns of poems and the syntactic patterns of how we make nouns plural or verbs past tense are both word patterns, and each supports mathematical as well as natural language understanding.

Language gives teachers of multiple subjects an interesting way to cross disciplines. But understand the focus here: It is not about how to communicate in mathematics; rather, it is about patterns in form and in syntax, which lead directly to learning about language in general and about machine communication in particular.

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Here are two activities—using written expressions and visual codings—that let you explore the wealth of word patterns in language. (Don't forget to read the activity background for more ideas on classroom use and connections to standards.)

  • In Limerick Factory you make limericks online and figure out why they work.

  • At the Syntax Store you work with parts of speech even if you don't know what they are or precisely how they function.

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Almost all students have mastered one language or another. And language has some of the most sophisticated patterns we can imagine. As soon as young students can read, they can play Limerick Factory and Syntax Store, regardless of whether they understand all aspects of the activities.

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NCTM Standard 2 (1998) sets the purpose of patterns, functions, and algebra in mathematics education at all grade levels.

Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to patterns, functions, symbols, and models so that all students

  • understand various types of patterns and functional relationships;

  • use symbolic forms to represent and analyze mathematical situations and structures;

  • use mathematical models and analyze change in both real and abstract contexts.

In its Standards for the English Language Arts, the National Council of Teachers of English states that "as students progress through their formal schooling, they grow in their ability to use language clearly, strategically, critically, and creatively." This development parallels students being able to identify patterns and differences between the familiar syntax they use to communicate in everyday life and the alien syntax they need to communicate with machines.


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