Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | September 27, 2011

Let Them Use Cake

Making Patterns With Cakes

“I wonder if you can make patterns out of cake?” asked one of my five year old cherubs.

“I wonder if you can make patterns with trees?”

“I wonder if you can make patterns with boxes?”

It was the beginning of our patterning unit. I had explained what they were expected to learn,  and the children were responding by telling me what they wondered about patterns.  When everyone had had a chance, I gave each of them a card with I wonder printed on it, and asked them to draw a picture to demonstrate their question.  When they had finished, they brought their pictures to me and I printed their question on the card.  Then they traipsed off to our Wonder Wall to post their question. Some children had only one question–some had several.

The next day, I showed them the math manipulatives we had in the classroom and where we kept some of the other things they might need to find the answers to their questions. There was a momentary pause as they processed the fact that they were allowed to choose what they wanted to do, and then away they went.  Some children chose to do crayon and paper activities while others built their answers with lego or other blocks.  I walked around asking them questions about their patterns, taking pictures and pushing their thinking.

Truthfully, the only frustration of the day was their propensity to say “I’m done.” I think it will take awhile to convince them that they can’t be finished learning.

Patterning with Boxes

There were some I wonders that everyone wanted to do. The cake question was one of them. And when we got thirty-five paper boxes from the office…well, clearly no one wanted to be left out of making patterns with those as well.

For those who were able to answer their questions that day, I printed what they felt they had learned on a strip of paper and they copied it onto an I learned card so that it could be posted onto the What We Learned board.

Was it a successful time of learning? I think so. The students had a clear goal in mind and had to take responsibility for it themselves. They were able to practice the concepts they needed to learn by following their own interests.  They learned with and from each other.

That sounds like success.



  1. That does sound like a successful and very engaging lesson. It is wonderful when they can be so creative while learning also. Thanks for sharing!
    Verona Gridley

  2. Learning at it’s best!

  3. This sounds fantastic, Kathy! I haven’t started patterning yet in class, but when I do, I think I’ll try something similar too. I’ve done a few similar things before, but never with the “I wonder …” and “I learned …” walls. I love this idea! I’ll definitely be borrowing this one of yours. What a great way to make your students responsible for their own learning.


  4. Hi Ms. Cassidy, My name is Michelle Loupe. I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I am studying to become an elementary school teacher. I really enjoy reading all of the creative things you do with your students. This particular activity seems really fascinating. We all wonder about all sorts of things, so for you to put that into perspective for them and come out what an answer for their wonderings was really neat to me. I look forward to reading more about your classroom. Keep up the good work and thank you for posting so students like myself can learn from you.
    Thanks, Michelle Loupe
    Visit our class blog anytime

  5. What a great way to do student-driven, explorative learning. I think this is an engaging and interesting way to introduce a unit on patterns. I’m a pre-service elementary teacher and I’m continually inspired by teachers who make learning math dynamic and hands-on (I wish my math had been like that as a child). We have been learning many techniques in our math methods class on how to make math accessible to all students, and I think you’re doing that in your class. I think one of the important things in math is to show your students that math is all around us, which your students have clearly picked up on. Thanks for the post, I love collecting great ideas on how to make my teaching more meaningful and effective.

    • I’m glad you found the post useful. It sounds like you have a very good grasp of what makes a good math lesson and will be a great teacher.

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