A simple puzzle with more than 6000 solutions, challenging enough for an expert and simple enough for a child, tactile and visually impressive? What else but Tangrams!
I love playing with tangram pieces, I hope that after exploring some of the possibilities they present, you will enjoy them too and add them to your math teaching.
Here you will find a little bit of history, links to amazing tangram puzzles, ways to incorporate them in your math lessons and some free resources to encourage your children to enjoy these great puzzles.
Table of Contents
First a little history…
It is believed that Tangrams were first created in China. The patterns are called, in China, “Chin-Chiao Pan” meaning intriguing seven-piece puzzle. It is not known exactly when they were invented or by whom, however a book published in China in 1815, by Shan-Chiao, containing 374 puzzle patterns shows that they were popular in China in the early 1800’s. They became popular in the western world when merchants brought them with them as they traveled.
In 1848 a book called Geometrical Puzzles for the young was written by mathematician Thomas Hill. It is thought that this is where the term ‘tangrams’ was first penned.
It is said that Tangram fans included Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Edison, and Napoleon.
Will you add your name to the list?
Making your own…
Making your own puzzle piece is very simple. We used a cardboard box, template, knife and paint.
Use this template
You can glue the template to the cardboard box, or transfer the lines. Cut and paint!
Alternatively here is a video to show you how to fold and cut poster card to create a set of Tangram pieces.
If you would like to purchase puzzle pieces we have these great magnetic ones from The Teacher Superstore.
And this very affordable, wooden set, from KMart.
Now that I have my puzzle pieces…
So, now we have the pieces to play with, what can we do with them?
This fantastic idea, for creating Tangrams, alongside a story was found at Logicville. I have created a PDF download of the story of the ‘Weighing of the Elephant’, so that you can have fun making these puzzles with your children.
And here is a video that I made with my children.
Some Links to Free Puzzle Downloads…
Here is a list of great sites to find all kinds of Tangram puzzles to play with. Download some to try.
- Tangram Fury has an image library HERE.
- Math Equals Love has a fabulous page of resources, 97 free printable Tangram puzzles HERE.
- I love THESE black and white posters to print by Fun-Stuff-To-Do.
- The Tangram Channel is the place to go for everything Tangram.
- These Tangram puzzles, printable outlines, by Woo! Jrn are great for younger children.
If you are joining us for the 40 week math challenge, our Tangram challenge cards can be found HERE.
Using Tangram Pieces to Learn Math…
One of my favourite ways to use Tangrams in a math lesson is to demonstrate finding area. Starting with the pieces arranged in a square we can easily calculate the area. Move the pieces around to form a different shape, a difficult shape to calculate the area of, but all the pieces are the same, right? So, the area must be the same also. This helps our children see that by breaking down a complex geometric shape into smaller, simpler shapes, finding area is simplified.
Tangram shapes can be used to illustrate geometric translation, slide, flip or rotate a shape and draw the new view.
Each of the shapes is related to the others. The smallest triangle can be used to make all of the other shapes. This is super helpful when considering fractions and ratios.
The set is made up of 7 flat ploygons with these proportions
- 2 large right triangle (Area 1/4)
- 1 medium right triangle (Area 1/8)
- 2 small right triangles (Area 1/16)
- 1 square (Area 1/8)
- 1 parallelogram (Area 1/8)
From these dimensions we can see that the medium triangle is half as large as the big triangle, the parallelogram has the same area as the square. By looking at the pieces and playing with them, children can find relationships between the shapes.
Allow the children to play, explore and create with a set of Tangram pieces, if you are like me, you will not be able to resist joining in the fun! Enjoy!
The Math in Nature – Area and Perimeter guide comes with some tangram template puzzles and ideas for using tangrams with your little ones.