Attributes in Mathematics

Defining Characteristics of Objects and Geometric Patterns

Large group of various multi colored geometric shapes
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In mathematics, the word attribute is used to describe a characteristic or feature of an object—usually within a pattern—that allows for grouping of it with other similar objects and is typically used to describe size, shape, or color of objects in a group.

The term attribute is taught as early as kindergarten where children are often given a set of attribute blocks of differing colors, sizes, and shapes which the children are asked to sort according to a specific attribute, such as by size, color or shape, then asked to sort again by more than one attribute.

In summary, the attribute in math is usually used to describe a geometric pattern and is used generally throughout the course of mathematic study to define certain traits or characteristics of a group of objects in any given scenario, including the area and measurements of a square or the shape of a football.

Common Attributes in Elementary Mathematics

When students are introduced to mathematical attributes in kindergarten and first grade, they are primarily expected to understand the concept as it applies to physical objects and the basic physical descriptions of these objects, meaning that size, shape, and color are the most common attributes of early mathematics.

Although these basic concepts are later expanded upon in higher mathematics, especially geometry and trigonometry, it's important for young mathematicians to grasp the notion that objects can share similar traits and features that can help them sort large groups of objects into smaller, more manageable groupings of objects.

Later, especially in higher mathematics, this same principle will be applied to calculating totals of quantifiable attributes between groups of objects like in the example below.

Using Attributes to Compare and Group Objects

Attributes are especially important in early childhood math lessons, where students must grasp a core understanding of how similar shapes and patterns can help group objects together, where they can then be counted and combined or divided equally into different groups.

These core concepts are essential to understanding higher maths, especially in that they provide a basis for simplifying complex equations—from multiplication and division to algebraic and calculus formulas—by observing the patterns and similarities of attributes of particular groups of objects. 

Say, for instance, a person had 10 rectangular flower planters that had each had attributes of 12 inches long by 10 inches wide and 5 inches deep. A person would be able to determine that combined surface area of the planters (the length times the width times the number of planters) would equal 600 square inches.

On the other hand, if a person had 10 planters that were 12 inches by 10 inches and 20 planters that were 7 inches by 10 inches, the person would have to group the two different sizes of planters by these attributes in order to quickly determine how much surface area all the planters have between them. The formula, therefore, would read (10 X 12 inches X 10 inches) + (20 X 7 inches X 10 inches) because the two groups' total surface area must be calculated separately since their quantities and sizes differ.