My latest review from the Schoolhouse Review Crew is a kind of product I never knew that The Critical Thinking Co. produced!

It turns out that this company has a LOT more than just their *Mindbender* series, which is all that we’d used from them before. They actually have a rather enormous array of excellent curricula, which Crew members reviewed. We got to try out their **Pattern Explorer** book. It was just as impressive as everything else I’ve used from The Critical Thinking Co.!

**Pattern Explorer** Level 1 is a creatively designed book of puzzles, equations and math problems for students in grades 5-7. Rather than being a stand-alone mathematics curriculum, it’s more of an add-on to a student’s main math work. It’s designed to give students opportunities to learn and spot patterns in math and problem-solving. This is a skill that’s not only important for standardized testing (SAT or ACT, anyone?) but also for orderly, critical thinking and for life itself!

Since this is a year that my son, who’s a seventh grader, will be doing standardized testing, I was excited for us to use **Pattern Explorer**. I also know that while these skills are a part of many math curricula, they don’t seem to be ones that are focused on frequently; at least in the math curricula we’ve used in the past two years. I found that **Pattern Explorer** is a fantastic add-on to our regular math studies!

**So, what’ s in the book?**

**Pattern Explorer** contains 40 different sets of problems in five different skill areas: Pattern Predictor; Equality Explorer; Sequence Sleuth; Number Ninja; and Function Finder. So, there are 8 worksheet pages for each type of problem skill, which progress through the categories so that the student’s work is on varied areas each time he picks up the book. Additionally, there is an answer key in the second half of the book, which thoroughly and comprehensively explains the methods for solving each problem and page.

Here’s what each problem type covers:

- Pattern Predictor: In these pages, students are given examples of the first four stages of a pattern. Then, questions are asked about what the patterns would look like in later and higher stages, and they must deduce what those stages would look like.
- Equality Explorer: These pages show a balance weighted on on one side, with numbers, and on the other, with shapes representing numbers. Students must figure out what the numbers are that go into the blank spaces, which will then equal the numbers on the other side of the balance.
- Sequence Sleuth: In Sequence Sleuth, students are given patterns of shapes, in stages. They must look at the pattern given and figure out what stages would be later on in the sequence.
- Number Ninja: Number Ninja reminded me a bit of Sudoku problems. In these equations, students must solve problems in a triangle, in which the numbers must add up at the various circles or lines connecting them.
- Function Finder: In these problems, students are instructed to solve the “secret operation” which acts on two numbers. The secret operations are symbols (like musical notes, suns, triangles) which represent processes like addition, multiplication, and so on.

**How we used it:**

Generally, we used this book following our regular math work, about three times per week. At the beginning, we’d sit down together and chat about the example problems and why and how they might be solvable. Some of the types were easier for me to think through, and some were not. (Fortunately, my husband is a math genius, so he was able to explain the Sequence Sleuth problems much more clearly than I was! Glad he was available!) However, even on problems whose solutions were not readily apparent to me, the answer key plainly explained what they were, and how to get there.

As I mentioned earlier, my son is NOT a math fan. He is an excellent math student. But, if he never had to do math again, I think he’d count it a huge windfall. However, he was able to work the problems correctly and effectively….even if he wasn’t quite that wild about it! Here’s what he had to say about it:

“I don’t like it very much because it’s math. However, it can be a good study at times, I think. And that is my opinion.”

Now, on the other hand? My husband, whose background is in higher math and computers, LOVED the book. We both thought that it was fascinating and effective preparation for math and for standardized testing.

**In conclusion:**

I must admit that math is not my favorite subject. Neither is it my son’s; despite the fact that he’s quite proficient at math, it’s not something he would ever request to do just for fun! And, I must also admit that some of the problems even confounded me. (Again, for the parent, this is where the answer key comes in handy!) But, the experience, for the student, of sitting down and figuring out patterns, problems and equations can yield nothing but improved math skills and understanding.

**Pattern Explorer **accomplishes everything that it says it does. It gives students fun and interesting math puzzles to explore and solve. It challenges different types of ability and thinking. And it truly is, in my opinion, an excellent tool for strengthening math skills!

**Pattern Explorer** is available at The Critical Thinking Co. for $14.99. It is a great product to round out your student’s math skills, and to provide puzzle fun while doing so!

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