“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.”

– Chuck Palahnuik


Whether we like it or not, patterns are a part of life.  Unfortunately, the skill of finding, recognizing and communicating these patterns is briefly touched on when kids are young and then mostly ignored as they move forward. However, this is a skill that is too important to ignore and I know that math is a wonderful medium for developing it.

“Doing mathematics should always mean finding patterns and crafting beautiful and meaningful explanations.” –Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament


On of our favorite ways to help kids learn how to see patterns in mathematical procedures is to play a game that we like to call, the Smiley Face Game.

It’s a super quick game and a great way to start your math day each day. The rules are simple, I give you two numbers and the answer.  You have to figure out how to use those two numbers to get the answer I gave.  The trick is that what I do to those numbers doesn’t have to be a normal operation, it could be something totally crazy.

Here’s a set of Smiley Face puzzles to help you get started.  Create some more and I would definitely have your student build some for you to do.

The Smiley Face Game

The beauty of this game is that it helps students observe patterns, create and test a hypothesis and finalize a set of steps that work for all of the given examples.  That is the Discovery Method in its purest form.  It really is cool to watch kids take something that makes no sense at first glance and write concrete steps that explain the patterns they’re seeing.


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