Category Archives: Problem Solving

Help Desks

As my students gear up for this year’s Global Cardboard Challenge, they will also be researching a charity to which they will donate the proceeds from their cardboard arcade.  I want them to keep in mind Angela Maier’s mantra, “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution,” and to cultivate their empathy along with their creativity.

Help Desks for Indian children, created by
Help Desks for Indian children, created by Aarambh

As I was thinking about how to inspire my classes this year (many of whom have already seen the Caine’s Arcade videos), I ran across this video from an organization called, “Aarambh.”  Committed to helping students become more comfortable in their schools in rural areas of India, Aarambh found a way to make combination desks/backpacks out of discarded cardboard.  For less than 20 cents in American dollars, a child can be outfitted with this invaluable piece of equipment.  This is a great video to show students so many things:

  • the value of an education
  • how fortunate many of us are to receive a free education with numerous resources
  • how simple, yet creative, ideas can have an incredible positive impact
  • that recycling is not just a luxury but an imperative

Game About Squares

Before you click on the link below, you must agree to the following statement:

“I will not hate Terri Eichholz for the rest of eternity just because she introduced me to this horribly addictive game that got me fired from my job because I couldn’t stop playing.”

Agreed?

Okay.

It’s Phun Phriday, and I found a really fun game that I’ve been wanting to share with you all week.  It’s called “Game About Squares.” It’s online and HTML 5, so you should be able to play it on mobile devices.  (I haven’t tried because I don’t want to start over!)

One of the messages between levels on Game About Squares
One of the messages between levels on Game About Squares

I am currently stuck on Level 14, and I am not a happy camper.  I’ve been making myself solve at least one new level every time I get on my home computer, but I tried two last night and got stuck.  I’m sure I could find the answer on the internet somewhere but that kind of defeats the purpose.

Right?

Check back with me in a few days and see if I’m still feeling that ethical about it…

I despise you, Level 14!
I despise you, Level 14!

It’s What You Make of It

Since many people are returning to school during the next couple of weeks, I thought I would re-visit and share some of last year’s more successful projects in case you want to try one.  Monday’s post was on the surprise “You Matter” videos that I asked parents to make for their children last year. On Tuesday, I wrote about the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Almost exactly a year ago, I predicted the trends in education for the 2013-2014 school year.  I was re-reading that post today, and laughed at my addition of maker studios almost as an afterthought at the end of my post.  Anyone who has been reading education blogs and magazines will know that maker studios are becoming a huge trend, and that they are not limited to schools.

The-Maker-Movement

The truth is that many people are recognizing that there is a hunger in our youth to create and that the process of making is a deeper learning experience than regurgitating facts from a lecture.

There is not one right way to bring a maker studio into your school. Many schools are integrating them into their libraries or obsolete computer labs.  Some are incorporating the design process into their entire curriculum.  But, just like the Global Cardboard Challenge, you can still make a huge difference by starting small.

Last year, I realized that an empty classroom next door could be transformed into a maker studio.  I applied for a grant from our school’s PTA.  My GT classes named the room B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) and it basically became a testing ground for all of the new materials we purchased.  You may not have the luxury of an empty room, but a station in your classroom would work just as well.

Some of the items we purchased for our space were:

We also had a green screen that had been given to the school.

I didn’t know how to use any of the above until my students helped me figure them out.  Last year was really just time for us all to explore.

This year, I am starting an after-school Maker Club to involve more students than the ones in GT.  One thing I learned from last year is that I need to narrow my focus.  So, the Maker Club will have 4 main themes this year: Cardboard Challenge, Video Creation, Programming, and Electric Circuits.

In addition, the GT students who were exposed to materials last year will be challenged to find ways to incorporate them in our Cardboard Challenge and other projects throughout this year.

Eventually, I want B.O.S.S. HQ to be accessed by all students in the school, but I’m still working out the kinks on that.

My advice to a teacher just beginning would be the following:

  • Read Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez
  • Try the Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Add a station to your classroom that involves creating.  Little Bits are great, and the company offers educator discounts. Chibitronics and MaKey MaKey are also relatively inexpensive ways to start.
  • Make the mantra, “Think, Make, Improve” (from Invent to Learn) part of your classroom theme.
  • Celebrate the “growth mindset” so that students understand they will learn even when things don’t go as planned.  Rosie Revere, Engineer is a great book to reinforce this.
  • When you are ready to “go bigger”, enlist the help of the community.  You can find experts who can teach your students different skills, people who are willing to donate supplies (Donors Choose is great for this), and you might want to visit maker spaces and maker faires in your area for ideas on the type of inventory and organization you need.

If you search for “maker” on my blog, you will find many other posts I’ve done regarding this topic.  You can also visit my Pinterest board of Maker Resources here.  Two of my favorite online resources are Make magazine and Design Squad.  The online Maker Camp from Google and Make also has lots of ideas.

ScratchJr

I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer.  It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.

ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7.  It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)

As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction.  I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app.  Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the DinosaurKodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them.  However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.

The interface seems fairly simple.  The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video.  In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts.  Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.

Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved.  The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.

ScratchJr screen shot

For more information, you can visit the ScratchJr website.  There are a few materials available for teachers at the moment, and I’m sure more will be added as the project gains momentum.

So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch.  However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.

If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website.  However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom.  I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit.  It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.

Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool.  Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc…  Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.

Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.

 

 

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.