Tangrams But Better: 2 Dimensional Problem Solving

Grade Levels
K - 5th
Formats Included
  • PDF
17 pages
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What you’ve just purchased is a very decent alternative to “tangrams” and “pentominoes.” Please allow me to introduce you to the wonderful world of “Van Hiele Tiles.” Actually, these have nothing to do with the great educational theorists Dina van Hiele Geldorf and her husband, Pierre van Hiele (but it does, which you’ll see if you continue reading.) This puzzle originated in Germany with the Anchor Stone Company, which made building blocks and geometric puzzles using an artificial “stone” made of quartz, sand, chalk and lindseed oil.

Anchor sold these puzzles in Germany during the 18 and 1900s, and they were a favorite childhood toy of Albert Einstein and Walter Gropius. After WW II, Anchor ended up in East Germany and the company went through hard times. Although the company still exists today, their main product is stone building blocks, but they still manufacture a few of their original puzzles. The pattern in this puzzle is not being manufactured, and it is unclear if it was developed by the company itself, or, like tangrams, has been around for many years in the public domain.

This puzzle was brought to my attention in this article by Pierre van Hiele in The Arithmetic Teacher back in the 1999, where he showed how one could use the pieces to do some interesting geometry activities through the use of play. I started using the pieces in my classes, and after having a lot of success, decided to manufacture a modern version using the development of laser cutting to design and produce small batches of tiles.

From playing with the tiles, I discovered many interesting properties that could be put to use in the classroom. The first is that, unlike tangrams, these tiles had lots of interesting shapes. Among the seven tiles, you can find all three types of triangles when classified by angle (acute, obtuse, right) and sides (scalene, equilateral and isosceles.) There is also a “classic” example of the trapezoid, as well as one that is “non-standard.)

Using these 7 pieces, one can make an infinite number of designs (some of my students claim there are more....) What is even more interesting about them is that they pieces can be arranged can be used to make either same sized or enlarged replicas of their own shapes (this is called a dilation by the way....)

This is an introduction to the use of van Hiele tiles for developing visual problem solving skills through the use of 16 different puzzles. They can be used in any order, which makes them perfect for work centers, because none is more difficult than the other. Rather, what I have found is that students become better and better at solving the puzzles as they spend more time working with the pieces. The first puzzle your student attempts might take him/her 20 minutes, but as he/she gets use to the “feel” of the tiles, they will become more skilled and finish them in just a few minutes each.

It is best to print the puzzle pieces on stiff cardboard or card stock; they are designed to fit very comfortably into the puzzle without any room left over the edges. If you want more permanent materials, you can order individual sets at my TpT store. If you want to buy a classroom set (15 or more sets), email me at r@bltm.com and I’ll give you a good deal. I also wrote a wonderful curriculum that uses van Hiele levels. If you order a classroom set of the tiles, I’ll hook you up with the curriculum for free!

Click here to see the curriculum; Teaching Geometry Through Play

Click here to buy the acrylic puzzles: Van Hiele Acrylic Tiles
Total Pages
17 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
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