A tangram puzzle consists of seven pieces — five triangles and two quadrilaterals made from one square. Tangrams originated in China hundreds of years ago. They traveled to Europe in the 1800’s, where they gained global fame. These seven pieces are used to create thousands of unique figures. A tangram puzzle shows only an outline or silhouette of a figure, and the puzzle solver must create it, using all seven pieces. This requires spatial reasoning as one flips, slides, and rotates the smaller shapes to compose the larger tangram shape.
You can make your own set of paper tangrams by following this easy, step-by-step video. All you need is a piece of paper and a pair of scissors to make these do-it-yourself puzzles. Then, get creative!
Ms. Chen, a second-grade teacher at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School in Chicago, integrates art with math when she uses tangrams with her students. Her math focus is spatial reasoning and shape composition.
Ms. Chen begins the exploration by reading Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert, and you can listen to the story here. Have children explore the tangram shapes by trying to create the large square from which they came. Next, try to make the animal figures from the story. Then, invite children to create their own figures, following the rules of tangram puzzles. The rules state that you must use all pieces, each piece must touch another piece, and none of the pieces can overlap. Look at some lovely examples from the 7- and 8-year-old children in Ms. Chen’s class!
Why use tangrams?
Tangram puzzles help learners develop an understanding of the big ideas about shape and spatial relationships. Spatial reasoning is the capacity to visualize relationships between shapes and manipulate shapes through turns (rotations) and flips (reflections), both physically and mentally. Developing children’s spatial reasoning deepens their understanding of geometry as well as develops flexibility for problem solving. Working with do-it-yourself tangram puzzles—at home or at school—can really help your child’s creative, mathematical thinking take shape!