The tangram is a puzzle consisting of seven different pieces that are made to fit into a square. There is 1 square, 1 parallelogram, and 5 triangles. The Tangram puzzle originally came from China, but we do not know much about the history. There are various myths and stories on how this intricate, dissecting puzzle first came about, but we do not know for sure which story is true. The earliest written documentation about these puzzles was written in 1813, however, it is though that the puzzles had been around many years before this. When the puzzle first came about sources say that Western sailors who traded opium often played these puzzles with their Tanka girlfriends, which makes many people believe this is were the name came from, a mixture of Tanka and tramgram, an English word meaning puzzle. Another story often told to children about the history of Tangrams, was that an ancient orient was asked to carry a piece of glass to be placed in the house of a King and Queen and on his journey he dropped the glass and had to put it back together. He had seven pieces and with these pieces he was able to make various shapes, but needed to make a square, which he eventually did. The King was amazed when told this story and became very interested in the concept. Even though this fictional story is told to children, it still gives you some idea of what could have brought these puzzles around. People believe that their isn’t much history about these puzzles because at the time, before they became popular, tangrams were considered a game for women and children, and would not be taken serious by scholars. However, over time the game became known by the Chinese as the “wisdom puzzle” and would be used to test the intelligence of people. Tangrams eventually made their way over to Europe and America due to the immense amount of trading occurring with China. Sailors would bring home books containing these puzzles to their family and friends.

Even though one may look at a tangram as a fun puzzle, it actually holds a lot of mathematical value. By solving these puzzles you learn a lot about geometry by playing with different shapes. You can also learn about area, by finding the area of each individual piece, which would then result in knowing the area of your whole figure. These puzzles could be used at an elementary level to first introduce students to shapes or at a middle school to high school level to test their understanding with area and with configuring shapes to make a bigger picture.

(picture taken off of google images/wikipedia)

**This blog comes from part of a project I worked on in a History of Mathematics Class

Gina, I thought you might find these Math Forum resources:

Tom Scavo

Tangrams

http://mathforum.org/trscavo/tangrams/contents.html

Dana Tunison

Chinese Tangram Puzzles

http://mathforum.org/alejandre/mathfair/tangram.html

Suzanne Alejandre

Tangram Activity

http://mathforum.org/alejandre/frisbie/tangram.html

(both Dana’s and my pages are quite old and have reference to antiquated software but the ideas may still good — just swap in use of an app or Java Applet for the technology)

Technology PoW: Tangrams

http://mathforum.org/mathtools/tpow/24048/

(tPoWs are free but require a quick login setup)

Tool: Tangrams

http://mathforum.org/mathtools/tool/3005/

~Suzanne

Thanks Suzanne! I’ll be sure to take a look!

–Gina