Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plenty of Patterns: Sorting Through Spring by Lizann Flatt



Which rows make an ABA, ABA pattern?

What other patterns do you see?

Patterns do occur in nature, but most of the patterns in LizAnn Flatt's new Sorting Through Spring (Math in Nature) (Owlkids Books, 2013) are not among those naturally occurring regularities--they appear as devised teaching opportunities in the bright and stylized cut-paper collage illustrations of artist Ashley Barron.

With the exception of the spring ritual of the male prairie hen--woo-woo flap, stampity stomp-stomp!--most of the double-page spreads simply use spring cycles to teach the concept of sorting, a math skill that involves recognizing similarities and differences and spotting repetitions, or patterns, of like and unlike. Some concepts may require previous learning, such as what an ABA pattern is.

Examples range from the simple--recognizing the color pattern in piles of shed yellow or white caribou antlers--to the advanced, calculating the ratio between the number of eggs laid by robins as opposed to hummingbirds (robins lay four; hummingbirds lay two). Many of the tasks involve skills in between, such as greater than or less than or reading a bar graph about where mosquitoes lay eggs and interpreting where in the illustrations the mosquitoes will leave their eggs. Some pattern pages are open-ended, asking what other ways the items could be grouped, by color or shape or pattern.

One double-page spread deals with reasoning as well as probability, or at least thinking beyond the counting box, asking whether a father fox is most likely to bring home a dinner of voles, squirrels, or rabbits, a query which lends itself to considerations beyond which one of the three animals are most plentiful on the page. (For example, squirrels on a tree trunk are unlikely catches for a ground-based predator, no matter how many there are!)

An appendix, "Nature Notes," offers short summaries of the spring habits and behaviors of the featured animals, but provide few clues to the mathematical queries in the text. The second in the Math in Nature series, Sorting Through Spring (Math in Nature), published in Canada, features some animals (caribou, lake smelt) which will not be familiar to students in the more southern regions of North America, but whether the pictured animal is called a caribou, a reindeer, or just a deer, a smelt or just a fish is not material to the mathematical concept presented. Picture books which deal with mathematical concepts such as probability, ratio, and complex patterns are rare, and the charming illustrations of animals in spring make this book an attractive seasonal choice for young readers. The small size of this book and the detail of the patterns make this one best for adult-and-child use, although some older puzzle-preferring readers may choose to pour over the pictures by themselves.

My review of the first book in this series, Counting on Fall (Math in Nature) can be seen here.

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