Tag Archives: problem solving

Chrome Cube Lab

Created with Type Cube in Chrome Cube Lab
Created with Type Cube in Chrome Cube Lab

Well, it’s Phun Phriday, and I am being completely selfless by sharing a site with you that I find more torturous than fun ;) You see, I was never a huge fan of the Rubik’s Cube.  I have some sort of visual/spatial disorder that makes finding my car in parking lots and solving the Rubik’s Cube without removing all of the stickers impossibly frustrating for me. However, as many of you know, one of the Google Doodles this week was an interactive Rubik’s Cube. Fun – if you like that sort of thing…

But then I saw a link on Joe Hanson’s “It’s Okay to Be Smart” to Chrome Cube Lab. And, for some reason I followed the link.  And I found some amusing digital ways to utilize the Rubik’s Cube. I was able to use “Type Cube” to create the image above. Then I stupidly clicked “Done” and scrambled it. But then it miraculously unscrambled itself. To me that is the best kind of Rubik’s Cube!

Scrambled, then put back together
Scrambled, then put back together

 

The other tool I liked was the “Image Cube.”

Cool - I can add images from my blog!
Cool – I can add images from my blog!

Then I thought it would be cool to offer one of those blog contests; you know, I could scramble the images and give a prize to the first person to identify all of the posts they came from.

Scrambled Image Cube

Then I realized that I have no prizes to give out.  Then I got distracted by adding different backgrounds.

Image Cube with Background

Then I realized I had wasted about as much time as I usually spend trying to find my car in the mall parking lot…

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.

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.

It’s About the Process, Not the Product

A couple of my 2nd graders as they play with the Kodable app.
A couple of my 2nd graders as they play with the Kodable app.

The Hour of Code is scheduled for next week, and I can’t wait to participate.  Vicki Davis just posted an excellent resource on Edutopia for those who want to join in the fun.  Yesterday, I posted about a new iPad app that you might want to try.  And in November, I gave some awesome resources that include suggestions by grade level as well as a terrific compilation of Computer Science resources.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge proponent of teaching kids how to code.  However, I am going to step way out on a limb here, and say that I do not agree that coding should be added to the required curriculum.

I know.  Where did that come from?

Generally, I don’t publicly get in the mix on controversial topics; I try to save that for Thanksgiving dinners with my family.   One reason I avoid contentious subjects is because I am well aware that I don’t know enough to weigh in heavily on either side.  That is probably the case here, as well.  But I am going to blunder my way into this one because I have been pondering it quite a bit.

The case for teaching kids to code can be found in numerous articles online.  Our nation has a far higher demand for programmers than we are producing.  Coding is an important 21st century skill.  It teaches our students about systems and how to problem solve.  I agree.  I also agree that exposing our kids to the basics of programming at an early age is a great idea.

But I worry that shoving it into our curriculum will take away its relevance.  It will become another skill to check off, another subject to be tested.  Exploration and creativity will be surrendered for efficiency and expediency.  Kids will be yawning and asking, “Why do I have to learn this?  I don’t want to be a computer programmer when I grow up.”

The truth is, despite the fact that we are careening into a future that will be even more dependent on technology than our present condition, not every person is going to need to know how to program.  I can watch T.V. just fine without knowing what a cathode tube does.  And, though I would probably have less chance of being gouged by a mechanic if I knew more about my car, I have driven for over 20 years in complete ignorance of the existence of 99% of the various parts necessary to make it run.

I teach kids to code because a.) they are interested, b.) they are not even a tiny bit interested, but then realize that it can be both challenging and fun, and c.) they learn valuable thinking skills that transfer to other lessons.

In my ideal educational world, every child would be introduced to coding by a passionate teacher who is able to integrate it with other subjects, and to guide kids to making real-world connections to programming.  The students who love it would be able to go as deeply into it as they like.  And those who have seen what it can do, but prefer to develop their computational and problem-solving skills another way can move in other directions.

The problem is, many kids today, particularly girls, don’t get to make that choice. The stereotype of pasty white, anti-social males sitting in basements surrounded by monitors and other mysterious electronic equipment as they design video games still pervades our culture. We should dispel that.  But we need to be careful.  Our goal should be to teach kids how to think, not what to think.

For my part, I will be including all of my classes, 1st-5th, in the Hour of Code next week.    I also plan to show this video to my upper grades because it eloquently expresses how coding was a vehicle to helping someone realize he matters to the world – and that the world matters to him.  They will get more programming experiences throughout the year.  They can also use Genius Hour time to pursue the topic if they like.  Or not.

In summary, I think we should teach kids how to look for patterns, systems thinking, creative problem solving skills, and even how to read and write code.  We can do that with computer programming – or knitting. Requiring either of those specific skills in every grade level will not benefit our children.

Cubelets

from Modular Robotics
from Modular Robotics

So, weirdly, today’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post has to do with cubes – again.  If you have been reading my last few Friday posts, you may have noticed this pattern. It was not pre-determined, I promise.  In fact, when I realized the odd coincidence, I almost chose another product to review for today.  However, I am just too excited about this one to wait.

In a perfect world, every child would have access to a set of Cubelets.  I cannot emphasize enough the educational value of this modular robotics system.  And the absolute fun factor is best expressed by my 5th graders today, who got to test it out for the first time.  “It’s awesome!”  “I could play this all day!”

The magnetic Cubelets easily combine to create all sorts of robots.  Each robot must have a Battery Cubelet, but that is the only requirement. Using different Sense, Action, and Think Cubelets, you can design a robot that turns on a flashlight when the room grows dark, or sounds the alarm when the temperature gets too warm.  You can make a robot that flees from your hand or one that follows it.  There are infinite possibilities.  These little cubes contain lessons in systems thinking, logic, creative problem solving, programming, engineering, and collaboration all rolled into one hands-on, interactive set.

We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from our PTA to purchase the Standard Kit, which is a hefty $520.  The kit comes with 20 cubes, and really is almost perfect for a center for small groups of 4 or less.  We ordered an additional Battery Cubelet as the kit only provides one.  This way a couple of robots can be going at the same time.

If you want to start out smaller there is the KT106 Kit, which offers 6 Cubelets for $160. Or you can go whole hog, and buy the Educator Pack, which includes 4 KT106 Kits and a Standard Kit at the educator’s discount of $999.

You can also buy Cubelets individually if you see a need to add certain types to your collection.

So far, no kid I’ve put in front of this set has wanted to leave it.  Once they do some exploring and get the gist of each Cubelet’s capability, they eat up the challenges that are listed on the Educator page – and then start thinking of their own challenges.

This is a relatively new product. (Our box says “Beta Release” on it.) There is a community forum for suggestions, and I have a feeling educators, students, and parents will have many ideas. It’s definitely a work in progress with a great future. The Education page offers some Lesson Plans and Challenges, and I predict there will be more to come.

It was interesting to see the different ways my students, who voluntarily separated themselves into small groups by gender, initially approached the Cubelets.  The boys enthusiastically attempted to build things with them immediately, while the girls started by trying to identify and organize them.  The boys would start a challenge, but go off on tangents almost immediately with new ideas, while the girls preferred a more systematic approach.  In the end, however they all agreed on two things – the awesomeness, and the need for more time with them.

If you think that your budget might be a bit too stretched by Cubelets, I urge you to try to get some funding, as we did, from another source.  Cubelets are not a “flash in the pan” type product.  They have outstanding educational value, and you will not be disappointed if you purchase them.

Below: Video of my students creating a “conveyor belt” with some of the Cubelets.

(For my gift ideas, visit my Pinterest board.)

5 Methods for Developing Problem-Solving Skills

5-Methods-for-Developing-Problem-Solving-Skills_700

This infographic comes from the blog over at eyeoneducation.com.  I particularly like the first suggestion, “Brainstorming with a Twist.”  I often have my students brainstorm, but I have never thought of adding this additional challenge once they are finished.   You can go here to view the book, Teaching Students to Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action, by Ben Johnson, from which the infographic is adapted.  There is a link on that page to download a PDF sample from the book.