Square Moves

Curriculum – Geometry and Spatial Sense 

  • Recognizing symmetry
  • Describing location using positional language
  • Relating shapes to other shapes, to designs, and to figures
  • Describing relative locations and paths of motion
  • Composing and decomposing shapes
  • Recognizing transformations


Children are shown a shape (Shape A) made of square tiles on a magnetic tray. They are invited to copy the shape using their own square tiles on their own magnetic tray or cookie sheet. Then, using a second tray, the teacher presents a new image (Shape B) composed of the same number of square tiles as in Shape A. Next, the children are challenged to transform their initial shape into the second, target shape by using as few moves as possible.


  • Magnetic square tiles
  • Cookie sheets or magnetic trays
  • A sequence of pairs of images made of square tiles

Image 1A

Image 1B

Image 2A

Image 2B

Image 3A

Image 3B

Image 4A

Image 4B


  • Before you gather the children, prepare two trays—copy Image 1a on the first tray
    and Image 1b on the second tray.
  • Gather children in a semicircle with a good view of the teacher.
  • Provide each student with a magnetic tray and 10 magnetic square tiles of the same colour. Tell children that they will be playing a game in which they will be transforming one shape into a second shape by moving squares.
  • Now, hold up Image 1a on the teacher tray and invite students to study the image and create it on their own trays with square tiles provided.
  • Keep the teacher tray in full view until all children complete this step.
  • Next, hold up the new tray and say, “Oh my—it looks like the square mover has been here!” Now, holding up both trays at once, ask children to imagine and describe how they could make the new shape by moving only one square so that it looks like the one on the second tray (the one that has been changed).
    • Note: Before children make any moves on their own trays, invite them to use
      positional language to describe how to make the transformation in one move. (As
      the challenges increase, so do the number of moves per transformation.)
  • Repeat with Image 2a and Image 2b, etc. Each time, challenge the children to transform Shape A to Shape B in a minimum number of moves.



  • Repeat the same lesson/procedure with Image 2a and Image 2b etcetera. Each time challenge the students to transform Shape A to Shape B in a minimum number of moves. Encourage students to communicate their transformations and reasonings as they go through the problems.