Category Archives: Problem Solving

Robot-1900-BoxShot

Tried and True – Robot Turtles

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

robotturtles

For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I want to revisit a game that I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog – Robot Turtles.  Robot Turtles was another Kickstarter project that I backed, but the product is now available through ThinkFun, Amazon, and Target.  I used it during Hour of Code last year with my younger students to introduce the whole concept of programming.  After that, my 1st graders loved having it in a center during the year.  When my Kindergartners started class in the spring, they also got to try it.  They thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

The great thing about Robot Turtles is that it can be used for various levels of play, and there is a lot of room for imagination and creativity.  Older students and families find it fun to play, too.  If you have some room in your budget for an educational classroom game that is a great value, then I highly recommend Robot Turtles.

pixel-press-paper

PixelPress Floors

PixelPress first came to my attention when I discovered its Kickstarter campaign last year.  Unfortunately, I came across it after it was too late for me to back it.  Then, a couple of months ago, Drew Minock (Two Guys and Some iPads) mentioned that the Floors app was available for a free download on the iPad.  I immediately went to the PixelPress site and found the free Sketch Guide and Blank Sketch Sheet.

PixelPress Floors
PixelPress Floors app (now available on iPhone, too!)

“What?” you may ask, “Why do you need a sheet of paper for an app?”

Well, my friends, that is the beauty of the PixelPress Floors app.  If you have an iPad 3 or above, then you can take advantage of the drawing option.  You can actually draw a video game on the piece of paper provided, scan it with the app, and then play the game.  No programming necessary.

Don’t fear if you do not have the iPad 3 or above.  PixelPress just released an iPhone version of Floors which, along with the earlier iPads, works with a “Draw In-App” feature.

I introduced Floors to my students a few weeks before the end of school.  It became the new go-to favorite app for creating in my class.  The students loved using the Sketch Guide to create their games, and were eager to play each other’s to give constructive feedback.  As they wrote their games and edited them, I could hear a lot of mumbling and discussion about why things weren’t working and how to solve the problem.

PixelPress is very interested in coordinating with the Education community.  They have several posts on their blog that show the use of Floors in classrooms.  Teachers and parents can sign up for an education mailing list, and can also visit the Education Portal.  You can view a recent interview that Drew Minock and Brad Waid from Two Guys and Some iPads did with Katie Burke from PixelPress here. One intriguing use of the game in a classroom setting is to create a graphic novel using ComicLife and screen shots of the game, as you can see on this blog post from Porchester Junior School.  (You can see the comic here.

Download Floors while it’s still free (there are some in-app purchases, but there are plenty of things you can do in the free version).  Playing video games can be fun – but making them is even more entertaining!

Osmo

A little background for those of you new to this blog: I teach Gifted and Talented students in Kinder through 5th grades.  I have been teaching for 23 years, and a parent for 11.  I love educational technology – but I love my students and my daughter even more.  I only endorse products that I think will benefit children and are of good value.

Screen Shot from PlayOsmo.com video
Screen Shot from PlayOsmo.com video

It seems like a simple thing. Set up an iPad vertically on a sturdy base.  Place a small mirror over the iPad camera, and pieces that are on the table in front of it are instantly recognized by special apps designed for this purpose. Suddenly, the tangible and the digital interact in a way that few have imagined.  And, just like that, you have Tangible Play’s Osmo - an educational learning tool that will transform the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Instead of students working in isolation, they gather around Osmo to collaborate. Instead of silently concentrating on trying not to slam a bird into a pipe, students discuss strategies and brainstorm ideas. Instead of mindlessly consuming images and information, students creatively interact with each other and this set of iPad games that require problem-solving and higher order thinking.

The evolution of this game is a testimony to how developers and educators can work together to create a product that is a valuable learning tool.  From the beginning (and I was fortunate enough to get in on the early stages), the Tangible Play developers sought out educators to beta test their project.  They created a Google account where teachers could give feedback and suggestions.  This interaction, and subsequent changes made to the games, showed that those of us in the classroom have an important voice and our experience can be a great asset to developers of educational technology.

Some examples of changes that I’ve seen:

  • The Tangrams game originally had a “Cheat” button. Due to teacher recommendations, this was changed to a “Hint” button.
  • The Words game began as a Red Team vs. Blue Team game.  Now, there is an option for a cooperative game

Numerous other revisions have occurred in the games – and they have all been for the better.

Osmo currently has 3 apps that can be used with the set: Words, Tangrams, and Newton.  The Words game is the hands-down favorite for my students.  I am partial to it, as well, because it allows you to create your own sets of pictures.  As any teacher can imagine, this opens up a world of possibilities for content reviews and teaching new concepts or vocabulary.  It also makes Osmo an asset to a teacher for any age group or subject, as you don’t have to rely on the Words game provided (though it’s awfully fun, too).

I love how the Tangrams game scaffolds for students.  It allows them to start with simple puzzles, and then choose more difficult ones as they work through it.  They also have to earn points in order to use any hints.

Newton is pure fun and has great potential for creativity as students try to think of tangible ways to keep the digital ball on track.

I am recommending Tangible Play’s Osmo for 2 reasons.  Number 1 is that it is good for children.  I can personally attest that it fosters collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. The second reason is that the company behind this product is genuinely interested in getting it right.  When I first received the kit, the developers did a Google Hangout with my students and me to help us set it up and answer any questions we might have.  (Of course, once the game was set up, the students were no longer as interested in chatting as I was!)  Since then, they have been in regular contact through e-mail and Google Plus.

Osmo officially launches today.  They are currently accepting preorders at a 50% discount until June 22, 2014 – to be shipped in the fall. Discount price will be $49 for the base + Tangram, Words and Newton.

For teachers – even if you only have 1 iPad, this is FABULOUS for centers or even for projecting on the big screen.  For parents – my 11 year old daughter and I love playing this together.  It’s easy to make it into a fun family game!

I cannot recommend this product highly enough.  I have been using the free beta test version, and I am still purchasing more, if that tells you anything!  Watch the video below to see this amazing educational set in action.

If you choose to purchase an Osmo, please use this referral link.

How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise

Student Survey

When I introduced Genius Hour to my 3rd graders this year, they were really excited about creating “missions” about anything that interested them.  The week after they set their goals for their projects, they came into class and I announced that we were going to switch gears.  We have been working on a unit on Systems Thinking, and I had a new idea to actually apply that unit to a real life problem in a real-life system – our school.

“What do you think are some problems around our school?” I asked them.  They brainstormed a list.

(There are 4 students in my 3rd grade GT class, by the way.  I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons: so you won’t think that I’m an extremely brave teacher for trying this experiment and so you will realize that my “class” probably needed to get some more perspectives on this question.)

“Do you think we should get some other opinions?” I asked the students.  They agreed that might be a good idea.  So, I showed them how to make a Google Form to use to survey the school, and we sent it to the staff to share with the students.

This week, we took a look at the summary of results.  Almost half of the respondents had agreed that the biggest problem at our school is the noise in the cafeteria.  The two girls in my class decided to take that on for their Genius Hour project.  The two boys chose to work on the problem of garbage on the cafeteria floor.

One of the boys had either misunderstood our discussion before Spring break or was so enthusiastic about it that he decided to create a solution before we even chose our problems.  He came to class yesterday with a game he had designed in Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids why leaving food on the floor was not a good idea.

Cafeteria Problem

“So, do you think the reason they are doing that is because they just need to be educated about the consequences?” I asked him. He nodded.

We had just finished reading a chapter of Billibonk and the Big Itch,  where the main character learns the importance of getting to the root of a problem so you’re not just treating the symptom.  I asked the students to use the method that Frankl suggests to Billibonk in the story – to keep asking, “Why?”  Frankl recommends doing this 5 times, or until you just can’t do it anymore.

Through a series of “Why’s” the girls decided that the reason for the noise in the cafeteria is related to people talking loudly for attention.

The boys came to two different conclusions about why there is so much garbage on the cafeteria floor.  One of them ended up believing it is due to disrespect for the adults in the room, and one of them feels that it is actually due to a lack of self-confidence.  The boy who designed the Gamestar Mechanic solution realized that this was not going to solve the problem he had just identified.  Of course, he is still determined to use Gamestar Mechanic to fix it :)

I have absolutely no idea where this is going next.  Now that the students have done their best to identify the causes of the problems, they are going to use some other Systems Thinking concepts to try to develop solutions.  This is a grand experiment for all of us!

While I was writing this post, I was attempting to multi-task, and listening to one of the videos from yesterday’s Learning Creative Learning class.  During the video, Mitch Resnick stated how important he believes it is to “solve problems in context of a meaningful project that you’re working on.”   That is exactly what we are attempting to do, so I hope that it is a good learning experience, no matter the results.

Here is a great article by Mitch Ditkoff for the Huffington Post that reinforces this idea of continuing to ask, “Why?” with a real-life example. (Be sure to read it before you share with students, as it does mention insects mating – with other synonyms for the word, “mating.” :) )

Video Story Problems

Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)

Video Story Problem – Shopping at Kohl’s from Ben Rimes on Vimeo.

The Return of Robot Turtles

Pre-order now from ThinkFun!
Pre-order now from ThinkFun!

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.