Recently, our students in 4th and 5th Grade began listening to the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. One of the main characters in the book, Calder, carries a set of pentominoes in his pocket. Students were interested in learning about pentominoes—so, one day, we had a picnic lunch on the floor and brought out the pentominoes and some puzzles to go with them.
Pentominoes are all the different shapes that can be made from 5 squares. Students had a great time trying to cover a given puzzle using the different shapes. In the story, the characters also used to pentominoes to create a code which they used to write letters to each other. We were able to translate these letters as we read, and we look forward to translating letters which may appear later in the story.