Chinese Math Activities for Kids

By Mary Osborne
Chinese Tangram

By connecting mathematics with China, you open the door to the study of an ancient culture that contributed greatly to the subject. From math puzzles to complex theories in geometry, Chinese math activities teach students math skills in an innovative manner. Your students can also benefit from comparing and contrasting how Chinese mathematics developed in a country nearly half a world away from the more familiar Greek and Egyptian mathematical minds of the time.


Chinese Tangrams and Other Puzzles

Tangram of a Running Man

On the surface, Chinese tangrams may look deceptively simple, but complex concepts are often disguised in simple packages. You can use tangrams to introduce students to symmetry, fractions and basic geometry. Besides learning the various tangram shapes, such as a rectangle, triangle and parallelogram, your students can practice manipulating them to form new shapes. Alternatively, you can instruct children to reproduce a shape to assess how well they can maneuver various polygons.

Chinese Counting Board and Abacus

Chinese Abacus

The Chinese counting board preceded the invention of the abacus. Your students may find it interesting to research how the counting board influenced Chinese mathematics, which was based on finding easier ways to compute and record numbers used in everyday life. Land surveyors, merchants, tradesmen and engineers used small rods of ivory or bamboo to represent numerals on a checkered counting board marked with rows and columns. Students may also enjoy making their own counting boards, abaci or online versions to better understand how the Chinese moved these objects to perform simple and complex math operations.

Chinese Timeline in Mathematics

Measuring a round town from a distance.

A timeline activity can help students appreciate Chinese history, science and geography, while leading to informative discussions about math. Instruct students to create a timeline of influential mathematicians in China and important mathematical theories. Discuss how these new ideas influenced society. Because of China's relative isolation from the rest of the world, Chinese mathematics developed in a unique manner, seemingly without the "proofs" required by Greek mathematicians. Point out that many of China's early mathematical discoveries were motivated by a desire for an accurate calendar that predicted the movements of planets, moons and other heavenly bodies.