Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Maths is the Science of Pattern

From the earliest experiences we have with maths the role of pattern plays a key role in how we learn and remember maths facts, concepts and relationships. The pattern of the number names as well as the numerals must be learned so that we can label and communicate our mathematical ideas in the same way that letter recognition and pronunciation is a prerequisite for literacy.

Even the idea of rational counting is a pattern where one more is added to get the next number or quantity. This can be extended to tens, hundreds, thousands and so on just by changing the referent being counted.

Counting by 2s and 5s is another  pattern that helps us learn and remember numerical relationships. Try counting by 5s starting at 3, instead of 0, and see what happens. The further you go the easier it gets because you very quickly see the pattern of 3s and 8s. The same can be done with fractions although it is clearly more difficult. Visualize half of a half of something. You should be seeing a quarter. Procedurally you have double the denominator to make one half into one quarter. So what is half of a third? A sixth? You double the 3 to get 6. Now you can find a half of any fraction without having to do the desperately miserable fraction multiplication algorithm. Try one third of a quarter. A twelfth, right?  You multiplied the denominator by 3. Now you can find a third of any fraction, even a third of three quarters; three twelfths. But that one is easier to do by dividing the numerator, 3, by 3 to get 1. A third of three quarters is one quarter. A third of 3 horses is 1 horse.

All of which brings us to the picture of the Sierpinski triangle fractal. Fractals are wonderful examples of patterns in maths. This triangle will go on for ever like all fractals. Look at the three pennies at the top. This group of three pennies is repeated over and over again to make bigger triangles. Here's a link to the wonderful Fractal Foundation site where pattern reigns supreme.       

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