Pattern Blocks are one of the all-time great math manipulatives for the classroom.

Upscale Pattern Blocks offer two innovations on the original.

  1. They remove the blocks with irrational areas, so explorations of area are more coherent, and don’t require removing blocks. This leaves us with four shapes: the green triangle, the blue rhombus, the red trapezoid, and the yellow hexagon.
  2. The add scaled up versions of all four block shapes, two and three times greater. This motivates a natural exploration of scaling and area.

Let’s see how we can use them in the classroom.

Free play

It’s easy to forget that free play is always the best way to introduce a new manipulative into classroom life. Open play allows kids to relax, get creative, and make their own natural discoveries. This time pays off in more directed learning later!

Building Challenges

Pick a medium or large shape and pick a number from 3 to 20. Challenge students to build the shape using precisely that many blocks. For example, if I wanted to build the medium hexagon using exactly 6 blocks, I might do it like this.

Area Challenges

Once we have any shape, you can pick a shape to act as your unit. The triangle is usually the easiest to start with. If I call the small green triangle “1,” what are all the other shapes worth? What is the whole shape worth?

Answering this question often involves building the other shapes out of the small green triangle, or imagining cutting them up into triangle-sized pieces. The small blue rhombuses could be cut into 2 triangles, so they must be worth 2. We can continue in this vein to find the area of all the blocks.

Since the large trapezoid on the bottom takes up half the space, it must have the same area as all the blocks on the top together. So it must be the same size as 12 of the small green triangles. (You can check this if you like!)

Number Search Challenges

When you’re ready to go to the next step, you can start picking different shapes and different numbers. Make the small trapezoid 12, for example, and the small green triangle will be 4, since it’s 1/3 the size. Often students will find the smallest area first, and use that to find all the other shapes.

Pick more arbitrarily, and you’re liable to dive into fractions! For example, if we make the medium triangle 15, the small triangle is 1/4 of that, or 15/4 (AKA, 3 and 3 quarters). In this case, using the small triangle to find the other sizes may not be the most efficient choice. For example, the medium trapezoid is the same as three of the medium triangles, making it 3 × 15 = 45. That’s easier than multiplying 3 and 3 quarters by 12!

Fraction Talks

Pattern block images make fantastic conversation starters for Fraction Talks! This routine takes only 5 minutes, and can superpower your students’ understanding of fractions. Download all the images here.

Pattern Block Scaling [Coming soon!]

A hands-on and non-electronic way to inspire creativity, thought, storytelling, and fine motor skills? That is a recipe for overwhelming enthusiasm from parent testers, something Upscale Pattern Blocks collected in spades.

—National Parenting Center Seal of Approval Review

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