Library Programs · STEM Programs

Junior Explorers: Tangrams

Junior Explorers: TangramsOne of my co-workers does a weekly science program for kids in grades K-2, called Junior Explorers. Last week I filled in for her and did a program on tangrams. This was uncharted territory for me–I haven’t seen a tangram in a long time and had to figure out what they are and how they work. Seven kids (all in Kindergarten and 1st Grade) came and the program went about 45 minutes. They were a little squirrely (the program is after school), but by the end all the kids had been engaged by at least one of the activities.

Equipment needed:

  • Tangram pieces. We have both the large, sturdy tangram sets from one of the Bedtime Math kits as well as a die that allowed me to cut smaller tangrams out of paper (to do a craft during the program) and foam (for the kids to take home).
  • Tangram examples printed out from the Bedtime Math website
  • The book Three Pigs, One Wolf and Seven Magic Shapes by Grace Maccarone
  • iPads with the My First Tangrams app

Program plan:

First we talked about what tangrams are.  They are old Chinese puzzles that have 7 pieces (square, parallelogram and five triangles of different sizes). You arrange the shapes to make pictures or other shapes (for example, all the pieces can be put together to make a square). Each picture has to use all seven pieces and the pieces must touch but not overlap. I showed them all the pieces using a large set and the examples I had printed.

Then I read aloud Three Pigs, One Wolf and Seven Magic Shapes by Grace Maccarone. It’s a cute take on the three little pigs that incorporates tangrams into the pictures.

Then the kids worked in pairs to make tangrams using the large pieces. They started with the examples I had printed (a hare, swan and cat), which, coincidentally, were also all in the book. I had copies for each group, so they were able to look at them closely to try to copy them. Some of the kids got the concept immediately and a couple of the kids were so enthusiastic they wanted to work on their own. Other kids were confused and needed more help from me. The kids took varying amounts of time to do this so the faster kids did additional tangrams from the book.

At this point the kids did a craft. I gave them a paper set of tangrams, a sheet of paper, crayons and glue. I had hoped they would make up their own tangram or replicate one we had already done, and then color a scene around it. As a group they weren’t very interested in this. A bunch of them made a picture of a candle (one of the kids made the example in the photo above) and one kid made a self-portrait that was pretty cute.

The last activity was using the My First Tangrams iPad app. We have four iPads so the kids had to share. They all really liked this part and many probably would have stayed all afternoon playing with this app if they could.

While some of the kids were more interested in tangrams than others, the program went well and I’m calling it a success. I’d consider doing a tangram program again, although I might target slightly older kids.

A few notes:

  • I paid $1.99 for the app because I hoped it would be easier than the free apps I found (it is called My First Tangrams!). It turned out not to be easier but the kids didn’t have any difficulty with it. So I’d recommend saving the money and using a free app.
  • For the first time, I used Guided Access on the iPad. It locks the iPad so the kids can only use the app you want them to. This worked great–several of the kids were successfully foiled in their attempts to access the other apps on the tablet. This is really easy to do; find directions here.
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