What patterns do you see?

What patterns do you see?

Identifying patterns is an important skill in understanding math and science. Patterns can be seen all around us. They are sometimes seen as repeating visual images or may be found as special arrangements of numbers in a list.

Animal brains are very good at identifying patterns. In this video, Ted’s brain quickly tells him that Barkley’s wallpaper pattern is broken in the dark area of the wall. His eyes and brain work together to recognize this change in pattern easily. He doesn’t have to think about it.

Because of our brain’s ability to recognize visual patterns easily, scientists often prefer to look at information in terms of a graph rather than a list of numbers.

Patterns are often associated with symmetry. In fact, the wallpaper that Barkley is hanging has a symmetry similar to some patterns found in particles that make up crystals in solids. Studying symmetry helps scientists understand how nature works.

Humans have a special kind of symmetry, or pattern to their body. If you draw an imaginary line from your head to the floor between your eyes, the right half of your body looks almost identical to the left half. This symmetry is called bilateral (having two sides) symmetry. Many other items found in nature, such as butterflies, leaves, and insects, have bilateral symmetry.

Radial symmetry can also be seen in nature. This type of symmetry is seen when similar parts are arranged around a central axis. A tree trunk and mushroom have radial symmetry.

Symmetry and patterns in nature are not only beautiful, but good ways to help scientists and mathematicians sort and organize nature. These visual similarities often indicate other less obvious similarities for natural things.
What patterns do you see?

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards:

Algebra: Understand patterns, relationships, and functions
Geometry: Apply transformations and use symmetry to analyze mathematicial situations

National Science Education Standards
Content Standard C: Life Science – Characteristics of organisms

This activity helps students extend and create patterns. They will also explore symmetry and connect it with animals, bugs, and objects.

What do we already know about patterns?

  • Identifying patterns is an important skill in understanding math and science. Patterns can be seen all around us.
  • Patterns are often associated with symmetry.
  • Symmetry is found in nature from flowers, to bugs, to animals.
  • Symmetry is a balance.
  • One type of symmetry can be seen when objects have matching parts or shapes on both sides of a centerline.

Activity – Patterns and Symmetry

white paper, two 3-inch black pipe cleaners, crayons or markers, scissors

Pre-Lesson Instructions:

  • Create an overhead transparency of the kites. As a class, ask students to identify the patterns in the kites.

  1. Review patterns and symmetry by watching the video newsbreak “What patterns do you see?”
  2. Looking at the kites on the overhead transparency, discuss the patterns. Ask students how they might create a pattern code to describe the patterns on the kites. (Example: ABABAB, AABAAB)
    Create an overhead transparency of these kites.
    Image of six kites with different patterns on them.
  3. Discuss whether the kites show symmetry. What is symmetry? It can be matching parts or shapes on both sides of a centerline. The basic kite shape has symmetry. Some of the patterns on the kites have symmetry. Symmetry helps to create balance. The line of symmetry is the line that divides an object equally.
  4. Draw some shapes and discuss whether the shapes are symmetrical. Some suggestions, in addition to the kites, might be:
    Image of heart, smiley face, and lady bug.
  5. Discuss the line of symmetry. Demonstrate how a heart is symmetrical by folding a piece of paper in half and drawing half the heart shape along the fold. Cut out the heart. Open the fold to show your symmetrical heart. Discuss how balanced and equal the heart is. With a marker, draw a line down the middle to show line of symmetry.
    Image of half of a heart with scissors.
  6. Tell the class they are going to make a butterfly the same way. Take this time to discuss how a butterfly’s pattern on its wings is symmetrical (color and patterns).
  7. Pass out white paper and have the students fold them in half. They will draw half of a butterfly wing along the fold. Ask students to cut out the shape and unfold. Ask students to draw a line along the fold to show the line of symmetry.
  8. Ask students to decorate the butterflies. Remind the students about how the colors and patterns on the wings have to be the same on both wings just like real butterflies.
  9. After the butterfly wings are decorated, distribute two 3-inch pipe cleaners for each student. Tape the pipe cleaners on the back of the butterfly for antennas.
  10. Review the concepts of patterns and symmetry through words and drawings.


  1. Have students draw 10 symmetrical figures and cut them along their lines of symmetry. Then, have students choose partners and exchange cut figures. Partners should reassemble the figures correctly.
  2. Have students create their own silly animals. The only requirement is that it has to be symmetrical. After their creations are finished, display each one and give it a name.
  3. Give each student yarn or string (enough to make a necklace) and a handful of colored circled cereal. Have them create their own patterned necklaces with the cereal.

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