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Patterns are regular and intelligible forms or sequences that can be found throughout nature. Scientific questions may be generated when scientists observe a pattern of events or when something does not match an established pattern. Scientists can use patterns to classify objects or phenomena into groups. There are patterns of both similarity and difference. For example, the frozen water in an iceberg is arranged into a regular, repeating crystal structure—a pattern of similarity. Young children can observe a common pattern of difference, the differences between adult animals and their offspring.


In marine and aquatic systems many patterns are observable and studied by scientists. For example, water at the surface of the ocean or a lake creates a pattern of waves or ripples when disturbed by wind or when interacting with land (Figs. 1 and 2). Many chemical elements and compounds follow similar patterns of distribution, both across the surface of the ocean and with depth. Scientists analyze humpback whales songs to find patterns of similarities and differences in the composition of the songs over time.


According to the framework, students should be able to observe and classify patterns of increasing complexity as they progress through school. Young children are able to recognize patterns in their own lives, including natural phenomena such as time and phases of the moon. Older students should be able to recognize and use scientific classifications, and should be able to discern patterns at different scales and rates. In the classroom, the concept of patterns should be explicitly taught and used to organize ideas across disciplines.


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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.