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Pattern walk at the Field Museum

Guest blogger: Lindsay Maldonado

posted by Lindsay Maldonado

Today I visited the Field Museum of Natural History. Another one of my favorite Chicago museums. The Field Museum houses thousands of artifacts from dinosaur bones to pottery and clothing from ancient civilizations. Again you may be thinking, math? Isn’t this a natural history museum? With thousands of artifacts on display, math is easy to find. Just a quick walk through the halls brings you upon any number of dioramas with countless animals of all shapes and sizes.

It’s easy to count animals (Big Idea: Counting) or classify animals (Big Idea: Sets) by their varying attributes like size or color – but when you start to delve deeper into the exhibit halls you’ll come across other kinds of artifacts. There are cases upon cases of decorative clothing and art from cultures near and far. In my recent visit I happened upon the Hall of Native North Americans exhibit.

Native North American exhibit

At first you’ll be enamored by the craftsmanship. You’ll wonder how long it must have taken to create something so beautiful and intricate. You’ll wonder why Native North Americans wore such adornments but then you’ll notice something else; you’ll notice the shapes and patterns woven together or threaded with beads that make up each artifact. There are circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, and triangles intricately designed to create simple and complex patterns. We see color patterns too.

Patterns exist in the world, as we see here, and also in mathematics. Through patterns, we find sequences bound by a rule (e.g., a chess board is made up of black and white squares, with a predictable black-white, black-white or AB, AB pattern) that brings predictability and allows us to generalize. Hence, we can predict, with a good amount of certainty, what comes next. Let’s look at a couple of these objects. What patterns can you find?


beaded ornaments

beaded bagThe beaded bag has blue and orange flowers arranged in a simple ABAB pattern. Each row alternates orange flower, blue flower, orange flower, blue flower, etc. It’s easy to predict what comes next. We see a similar ABAB pattern in the beaded ornaments (i.e., yellow blue, yellow blue). One big idea of patterns is just this; the same pattern can come in different forms.

We also see more complex patterns when you look more closely at shapes. Can you see the pattern?


decorative artPatterns are found in many places and children are particularly attuned to patterns. As we observed, patterns offer a sense of predictability, which children desire (e.g., we create routines for children to add order and predictability to their lives). When children understand the rule of a pattern they are able to extend that thinking to other situations.

Keep talking about patterns in the classroom! You can search for more activities about patterns here.

Lindsay Maldonado

Lindsay Maldonado developed an interest in informal learning experiences during her undergraduate years at Northeastern Illinois University, when she conducted research at the Chicago Children’s Museum to identify the museum programs and exhibits most likely to promote collaborative learning and foster a passion for science, technology, engineering and math by engaging children and families in STEM experiences. While pursuing her master’s degree in child development at the Erikson Institute, she coordinated the development of early childhood and family programs for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Today, as director of audience research and evaluation at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Maldonado leads the Shedd’s efforts to understand and enhance the visitor experience. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in applied child development at the Erikson Institute and Loyola University Chicago. Her research interests include family learning and engagement and cultural variations in learning and engagement, as well as the role that informal learning institutions play in promoting environmental literacy and connecting children and families to the natural world.

Read more posts by Lindsay Maldonado

5 Replies to “Pattern walk at the Field Museum”

  1. Great ideal to use the Field Museum to show us patterns. It is good to have a force on what we want the children to see and learn.

  2. Thank you for your article. I’ve been to the Field Museum several times and never thought about the patterns I was seeing. Next time I’ll look!

  3. I like this idea of thinking outside the box and searching for patterns and classification ideas in any type of environment.
    Wendy W.

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