Ask students to explain what math is and the word numbers will probably come up. While numbers dominate a lot of math activities, shape is another area of math that students need to learn.
When working with shapes, students learn to identify, classify (for example noticing which shapes have four sides or recognizing triangles by their three sides and three angles, even if they vary quite a bit in shape) and make connections (for example, two trapezoids can be put together to make a hexagon).
Tangrams and other puzzles for teaching math
Tangrams and puzzles are great ways to explore shape concepts in math. Let’s take a look at three ways to use tangrams and other puzzles with your class.
Using tangrams—the basics
Tangrams are a chinese puzzle with seven pieces: 5 triangles, 1 square and 1 rhombus. The beauty of tangrams are that they can be arranged many different ways to produce many different pictures or shapes.
The rules of tangrams are simple:
- all seven pieces of the tangram must be used
- they must lay flat and touch
- none of the pieces are to overlap.
Within those rules there are endless possibilities.
Introduce tangrams by giving students a set of pieces cut from construction paper. Ask students to put them together however they like, within the rules, to make an image.
After you check that they have used the tangrams according to the guidelines above, have students glue their images onto a sheet of paper.
Next have them swap images with a partner. Have the partner create the same image with another set of paper tangrams. This should be fairly easy as students can see each piece, but it gets them used to turning adjusting, and arranging the pieces to create a particular shape.
Go further with tangrams
Now that students are familiar with tangrams, they can begin to “solve” puzzles. Using tangram images that you have printed out without each shape defined, students need to arrange their pieces to create the correct shape. Encourage students to think about different ways of turning each piece and different arrangements to make the shape.
You can also create a barrier game out of tangrams. Have students work in pairs with a barrier between them. Have one student explain to the other student how to arrange the tangram so that it matches the design. The partner moves the tangram pieces according to the instructions. When they are done, have them compare the pictures. Did they come out the same? If not, ask: why is the second design different from the first? What instructions and words could you have used to make sure both pictures are the same?
Transformation shape puzzles
What happens when you move an object? Give students one of the tangrams pieces. What happens if they flip one of the triangles over? What if they rotate it? What if they slide it in a straight line?
Students need to learn the language to talk about these motions: reflecting (flipping), translating (sliding) and rotating (turning)—and specifics like rotate a quarter turn to the left. These activities show students that these motions don’t change the size or shape of the thing.
I’ve put together some activity sheets that walk students through various transformations. You can get a copy here.
I love teaching about space, including shapes, location and transformation of shapes, and The Bumper Book of Fun Math Games and Activities includes these activities just for this aspect of math:
- Exploring and classifying shapes
- Transformation puzzles
- Shapes that tessellate
- 2D shape dominoes
- Create a mystic rose
In addition, you also get individual, small group and whole class activities related to numbers, mental math, measurement, and chance and data. The 138-page book provides go-to activities appropriate for grades 1–4 designed to make your life easier and inspire you in teaching math.
Get your inspiration and ready to roll activities here >> The Bumper Book of Fun Math Games and Activities