Category Archives: 3-6

Erase All Kittens

Don’t worry.  There is nothing inhumane about this site.  And, if you are a fan of kittens and teaching kids how to code, then you will probably like it.

Erase all Kittens is a game that can be used to teach kids some programming skills.  The demo, which is available online, has several levels that scaffold learning to code (HTML and CSS) as the user plays a simple video game in which the goal is to release kittens from their box prisons.  Whenever you reach a kitten, you are rewarded with a short video of a cute kitten.  Each level is a bit harder, and you learn coding skills such as creating headings and changing colors so that you can more easily navigate.

My 11-year-old daughter was able to play the demo without any help from me.  She has a bit of experience with coding, though.  Whatever age level you try this with, the user needs to be able to read in order to make the necessary adjustments to the code.

If you want the full game, and you have some tech skills, you can visit this link.  Erase All Kittens is currently in beta, so the full version is not currently available to play online.  If you want to be notified about any updates, be sure to fill out your information on this page.

H/T to @wfryer for tweeting this link out last week!  If you would like to see more ideas for teaching kids how to code, feel free to visit my Pinterest Board on Programming for Kids.

Erase All Kittens

What Would Socrates Do?


In past posts, I’ve mentioned using “Socratic Dialogue” with my students.  Sometimes this is referred to as “Socratic Method”, “Socratic Seminar”, or “Socratic Circles.”  You can learn more about this teaching technique here and in my post on “Socratic Questions.”

I recently ran across an excellent post on the Langwitches blog called, “Socratic Seminar and the Backchannel.”  The article gives a detailed description of teacher Shannon Hancock using the fishbowl method of an inner circle and outer circle with her 8th grade students to discuss The Alchemist. What distinguishes Shannon’s lesson from others of its kind is that she allowed her students to use Today’s Meet as a backchannel to comment during the discussion.  Normally, the outer circle of students remain fairly passive, but her technique makes the discussion much more interactive and collaborative for all who are involved.  I must confess that I have used a backchannel in my class before (Socrative and Google Docs are other great alternatives to Today’s Meet), but this particular use never occurred to me.

Even if you do not have enough digital devices to exactly replicate Shannon’s lesson, I encourage you to take a look at the article, which includes a wonderful video of the class in action, as well as examples of comments made on the backchannel.  I love the way Shannon introduces the lesson, as well as her encouragement of the students to collaborate by having a short discussion with partners at the half-way mark.

Watching Shannon Hancock inspires me to work harder to make our classroom Socratic Circles more meaningful and deep, whether we use technology or not.

Transum Software

Transum Software

Don’t be mislead by the title of this site.  You are not required to download any software, and the math resources here are fun and free.  Although primarily designed for middle and high school students, there seem to be a lot of activities that could be used in upper elementary – and it would be a great site to refer to for extension activities.

The first thing I discovered when exploring the site was the “Starter of the Day” link, which gives a mathematical brain teaser for each day of the month.  Below is the example for today:

Starter of the day for 4/23/14 from Transum Software
Starter of the day for 4/23/14 from Transum Software


Shine + Write has many activities that would be great to use with an interactive white board.  This “True or False” game, for example, takes some thought.  Fun Maths has a page of games and math tricks that will be sure to entertain. Investigations offers challenges that might be good for gifted math students to work on independently.

There are many other links on Transum Software that you may find useful.  If you are looking for a way to make math class more exciting, I highly recommend checking out this site.

Would You Rather Be My Valentine or Do a Few Math Problems?

Would You Rather Be My Valentine

Earlier this month, I saw a post by Richard Byrne that led me to this great site of mathematical “Would You Rather” problems.  John Stevens (@JStevens009) is the clever man who creates these mathematical challenges, and I love the thinking that is required to solve the questions he poses.  I tried a few with my 3rd graders, and they were hooked.  Many of the problems, though, require a little more advanced math knowledge than generally possessed by 8-year-olds, so I thought about penning a few of my own.  Since Valentine’s Day is closing in, I decided to go with that theme.  I asked John if he minded me borrowing his idea, and he generously gave me the go-ahead.

The rule I give my students for these problems is that they must prove their answer using mathematical reasoning.  They are allowed to use the internet to research and/or do some hands-on measurements.  It’s possible that they may be able to justify completely different answers.  For example, on the one about the pound of chocolate, they might choose the lower amount instead of the higher because they are not huge fans of chocolate – though that seems to be rather rare.

I don’t know if you have ever heard kids playing the actual “Would You Rather” game, but it can get a little disgusting.  They seem to enjoy the gross questions, so I threw one into this series for the sake of low entertainment ;)

Feel free to use the Google Presentation, this Powerpoint file, or this PDF.

For more Valentine-related links, check out this post!

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Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

Twisted Sifter has a great article that includes pictures of “40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World.”  Not all of them are appropriate to show students, but some of them would be great to use for incorporating some Depth and Complexity into the classroom.  Here are a few, and some suggestions.

included in 40 Maps
included in “40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World” on

Big Idea – What general statement could you make about this map?

Change Over Time – How has the metric system been accepted throughout the world since its invention?

Multiple Perspectives – What are the pros for using the metric system?  What are the cons?  Who might benefit from its adoption by the U.S.?  Who would suffer if it became our only method of measurement?

included in "40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World" on
included in “40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World” on

Rules – How are the laws about driving different in countries that use the left side than the ones that use the right?

Details – What other aspects of life are effected by driving orientation?  (For example, car manufacturing, and street signs.)

Unanswered Questions – What does this map not tell us about driving orientation?  (For example, is one way more safe than the other?)

included in "40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World" on
included in “40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World” on

Big Idea – What conclusions can you make from this map?

Patterns and Trends – What similarities do you see?  Are there other things that the regions of the same color may have in common?

Ethics – What arguments or controversies might people have about these results?

And finally, this map sparked a little creative thinking from me.  How would the world be different if it was rearranged?

included in "40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World" on
included in “40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World” on




Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory App

What do you do when you have 24 students on their way to a Robotics Club meeting and you find out from a technician that your laptop hard drives have mutinied and need to be re-imaged?  If you are like me, you consider asking the technician if he would like to switch jobs for the afternoon.  The kids have spent three meetings building the robots and are eager to start programming.  I had kind of promised that the laptops would be ready for action yesterday, so I wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news that it would be at least two more weeks before the students could start.

Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)
Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)

But then I remembered something.

During a recent Twitter chat (#kidscancode – 8 PM EST on Tuesdays), @reesegans mentioned a Lego programming app.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I immediately downloaded it, and spent two hours trying to climb through the levels. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I almost tweeted @reesegans at one point to ask her how in the world to solve one of the levels (and it was not a very high one).  I am really proud to admit that I made it through 23 levels. On. My. Own.

I’m waiting for just the right moment to conquer the last level, 24.

Anyway – back to 24 students about to be disappointed…

I have enough iPads so groups of 3 could share.  Thankfully, Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory is free, so it was a quick download.

As soon as I demonstrated the first level, one of the students asked for a piece of paper so he could write down the name of the app to play it at home.

Fix the Factory fixed my problem.  The students still got to practice programming a Lego robot.  They were helping each other, engaged, and using creative problem solving skills.  Thank you, @reesegans!!!!!

It’s not the perfect app for a school setting, as you can’t set it up for different players on the same device.  But you might want to consider it for next week’s Hour of Code if you are planning to participate.  I would recommend Fix the Factory for 4th grade and up.  There are a few jumps in the scaffolding of skills, so you really need to guide the kids through thinking things out and persevering.  It’s similar to Cargo-Bot, but has the added bonus of an actual robot to program.

Speaking of the Hour of Code, check in tomorrow for a last-minute round-up of resources!

Sifteo Cubes

Sifteo Cubes
Sifteo Cubes

It’s Friday again, which means another episode of “Gifts for the Gifted.”  This is a series that I do in November and December to give suggestions for those of you shopping for holiday gifts for your students and/or children.  So far this month, I’ve posted about “Scrabble Flash” and “Makedo“.  You can view more recommendations on my Pinterest board.

This week, I offer you Sifteo Cubes.  They are similar to the Scrabble Flash game I reviewed last week – but they do so much more!  Of course, with the added functionality comes a heftier price.  Based on my daughter’s reaction to them last Christmas, however, they are well worth it.

My daughter, who is 10, can quickly lose interest in gifts that she receives.   I was worried that the Sifteo Cubes, which were at the top of her list last year, might suffer the same fate.  Fortunately, there was no need for concern.  Once the gift was unwrapped, it got the entire family’s attention.

A set of Sifteo Cubes includes 3 cubes that are pre-loaded with 4 different games, and a base.  The base is the key because you can connect it to your computer to download more games.  (You do have to pay for new games.)  You can also add on cubes.

The cubes interact with each other.  If you go to the Sifteo website, you can see video of the cubes in action.  The number of people who might want to play with them depends on the game.  One of my personal favorites is “Word Caravan.”

Sifteo has provided a few resources called “Creativity Kit“, which shares how the cubes can be used to develop Spatial Reasoning, Literacy, Perception, Pattern Recognition, and Collaboration.

At a price of $129 on Amazon, the Sifteo cubes are not cheap.  But, our family has found them to be worth it.

Now, I just need to convince my daughter to let me take them to my classroom…