Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thursday Tool School: Critical Thinking with Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks. Fractions. No way! Yes, way! My favorite way to use pattern blocks in the classroom is to teach fractions. The red trapezoid, blue rhombus, and green triangle all fit proportionally inside of the yellow hexagon, which makes them great tools to use to model fractions. 

The last activity for the September series is called, "What's the Whole?" (shown below) and supports students' understanding of the 'whole' when compared to the 'part'. Specifically, this activity requires students to view a whole as more than the area inside of a single space, such as the hexagon; it helps them understand a whole to be a unit, as defined by the size of each part. In addition, the activity addresses the following Common Core Math Standard: 

3.NF.A.1- Understand a fraction 1/b as the quantity formed by 1 part when a whole is partitioned into b equal parts; understand a fraction a/b as the quantity formed by a parts of size 1/b.

Here's how to use it: 

1. Review the students' understanding of a 'part' and a 'whole.' Note: Students need to have some experience with the notion of part and whole before completing this activity.  

2. Give each group of students several sets of pattern blocks. For example, give each student one set of pattern blocks but allow students to work together so that they have access to more than one of each shape. 

3. Allow students an opportunity to explore with the pattern blocks. Students should have some understanding of the relationships that exist among the pattern blocks. If students do not readily note the relationship between the yellow hexagon, red trapezoid, blue rhombus, and green triangle, be sure to bring it to their attention. This will support their work during the activity later. 

4. Give each student a "What's the Whole?" activity sheet (shown below).

5. Allow students an opportunity to work through each problem with a partner. You may want to have students draw a picture of each whole on another sheet of paper with the parts drawn and labeled on the inside. Note: The first few problems are based on the relationships students were exposed to earlier. They are meant to help students understand the idea of the 'part' and the 'whole.' 

6. Review the students' solutions. Discuss how to use the known part to discover the whole. Be sure to discuss whether or not students' views of a whole have changed and any thoughts or "wonderings" they may now have.

Extension: Have students create their own "What's the Whole?" example, exchange it with a partner, and make a small poster illustrating and explaining their solution. 

Free Resource Alert! Click here for a free download of the "What's the Whole?" activity page shown above.

Share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences of this activity in the comments section below. 


  1. This fits perfectly with my own blogpost this week. Excellent! Thank you for sharing. I've pinned for future reading!

  2. I love this activity. Great for students who struggle with spatial learning. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you! I agree, the visual tools help tremendously!

  3. Thanks for the free worksheet. Fractions always make more sense when students can work with concrete examples of them.