Chinese Math Activities for Kids

By Mary Osborne
Chinese Tangram

When a teacher connects mathematics with China, he is opening the door to the study of an extremely ancient culture that contributed greatly to the subject. From math puzzles to complex theories in geometry, Chinese math activities will help kids learn math skills in an innovative manner. Students can also learn about the methods in which Chinese mathematics came about, as it 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

On the surface, Chinese tangrams may look deceptively simple, but complex concepts can often be disguised in the simplest packages. Kids not only need to recognize the various tangram shapes, such as rectangle, triangle, and parallelogram, but how to manipulate them in order to form new shapes. Teachers can also ask children to reproduce a shape already provided to see how well they can maneuver the various polygons. Tangrams help students learn about symmetry and introduce them to geometry. The parts of that make up each shape created by the polygons is a good lead-in to discussion of fractions.

Chinese Counting Board and Abacus

The Chinese counting board preceded the invention of the Chinese "suan pan," or abacus. Discuss and illustrate the effect the counting board had on Chinese mathematics, which, at the time, were based on finding easier ways to compute and keep track of numbers used in everyday life. Land surveyors, merchants, tradesmen and engineers used small rods of ivory or bamboo to indicate numerals on the checkered counting board that was marked with rows and columns. Along with making counting boards, kids can also make their own abaci or use online versions to learn how the Chinese manipulated these objects in order to complete all of the major operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and square roots.

Chinese Timeline in Mathematics

Helping kids to create a timeline of various mathematical discoveries in China is a good interdisciplinary activity to introduce them to the individual mathematicians of each era and the different mathematical theories themselves. 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. Show students how many of China's early mathematical discoveries were made because they were concerned about creating an accurate calendar and predicting the movements of plants, moons and other bodies in the heavens. A timeline activity helps kids to understand history, science and geography concerning China, as well as leading to informative discussions about math.

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