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Article: Making the Most of Tarsia Jigsaws

May 31, 2014 - Articles, Blog Posts

When I first began my teaching career, Tarsia Jigsaws were the new kid on the block. You could not go to a maths conference without being armed with a pair of scissors and being set to work cutting out little triangles and fitting them back together again. The Tarsia Revolution was only just beginning.

In the years that have followed, Tarsias have spread across maths departments, with NQTs and more experienced teachers alike very keen to jump on the jigsaw bandwagon. But are Tarsias any better for students’ learning than simply doing 20 questions out of the textbook? The answer to that is… it depends how you use them!

There is certainly an argument that students respond better to doing routine questions when contained in a jigsaw than they would if those very same questions were listed on a page. There is something about the kinaesthetic nature of moving questions and answers together, and the subconscious telling the child that they are cutting things out, so they must be having fun.

But to only use Tarsias in this way is to do the wonderful piece of free software a great injustice. Introducing a few of the following twists adds a richness to the learning experience that textbook questions can only dream of:

• Missing Answers – choose a couple of the cards and leave the answer (or even the question!) blank so students have to fill them in for themselves

• Deliberate Mistakes – announce at the start of the activity that you have made two mistakes in the puzzle and students must identify them and correct them

• Non-unique Solutions – have a couple of the answers the same, so students have to use logic and thinking skills to assemble the entire puzzle correctly

• Order of Difficulty – when students have finished the puzzle, get them to select the three most difficult pieces to match-up and explain what makes them tricky

• Revision Lessons – get students to create Tarsia puzzles themselves on difficult topics (it is a free piece of software so can be installed on all school and home computers) and challenge each other to solve them

I have shared all my Tarsias here so feel free to download them and adapt them however you wish, and let the second phase of the Revolution begin!

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