Category Archives: 3-6

iBesties and Jewelbots

I am constantly prowling Kickstarter for new products that I think might be good for my students.  Lately, two STEM-related toys aimed particularly at girls have been on my radar.

The first, “iBesties,” only has 3 days left in its campaign as of today. They are very close to reaching their fundraising goal of $50,000. iBesties are dolls accompanied by books.  The purpose of iBesties is to raise awareness of careers that currently employ very few women – especially those related to science and technology.  Not every child likes to play with dolls, but iBesties look like a great alternative to Barbie for those who do.  If you back iBesties on Kickstarter for $40, you  will receive a doll and a book around April of 2016.  Check out their Kickstarter site for more info here – but do it soon!

iBesties dolls - McKenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign
iBesties dolls – Mckenna and Jada are being offered in the Kickstarter campaign which ends 7/31/15

The second Kickstarter product that recently caught my attention is “Jewelbots.”  Jewelbots are basically friendship bracelets, but they are wearables (short for wearable technology).  The bracelets can be programmed using an app to do such things as light up when another person wearing the Jewelbot nears you, send Morse code messages to each other, or notify you when you receive a text message.

One characteristic of Jewelbots that intrigues me is the potential to program the jewelry using Arduino IDE.  This opens up many more possibilities for the use of these deceptively simple bracelets – and might be an attractive way to motivate tweens and middle schoolers to learn more about programming.

With over $100,000 raised already, Jewelbots don’t need our backing to reach their $30,000 goal.  However, you might want to pledge $59 just because you know someone who would be excited to receive one in March of 2016.  The funding deadline is 8/7/15, but don’t wait too long!

Jewelbots - Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist
Jewelbots – Friendship Bracelets with a Techie Twist

Zombie-Based Learning

Yep.  You read that correctly.

How have I not heard of this before?!!!  Problem-based, standards-based, project-based…. All familiar to me.  Zombie-based?  Not so much.

image from Pixabay.com

The only reason I know about it now is because of another of Edutopia’s fabulous 5-Minute Film Festivals.  This one, posted on 7/17/15, is about inspirational teachers.  I scanned the list and, well, the word, “zombie” kind of jumps out at you.

David Hunter invented Zombie-based learning as a way to engage students as they learn about geography.  It’s aimed at 4th-8th graders, and he created his own graphic novel to supplement the lessons.  Curriculum standards are covered; you just happen to be evading zombies as you learn them.

I don’t know about you, but geography was such a yawn subject when I was in school back in the day.  With Zombie-based learning, I might have actually been interested in the location of Siberia and whether or not its climate was conducive to zombies.

I have not tried the curriculum,  You can check it out over here, and look at examples.  To use the curriculum you will need to fork over some cash.  You might find it worth it.  After all, you’re really getting two things for the price of one – an engaging curriculum for your students and a survival guide for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Let’s face it.  It’s coming.  It’s only a matter of time…

Painting with Sphero

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a #makered Twitter chat and somehow the conversation turned to using the Sphero robots to paint.  I was hoping to do this with my 4th graders because we are studying mathematical art and I thought it would be a good way to tie it in with the programming they have learned – but I had no idea how to go about it.

My colleagues on Twitter immediately offered fabulous suggestions: use tempera paint, try it with the “nubby” to give it texture, and buy a cheap plastic swimming pool to contain the mess.  One teacher offered to try it the next day with her students and, as promised, sent me pictures of the results.  Claire (@pritchclaire) also gave me the suggestion to stay away from red paint as it kind of stains the Sphero.

pritchclaire
image courtesy of @pritchclaire

After receiving all of this great advice, I introduced the topic to my 4th graders.  Then we set about coming up with a plan.  First, they learned how to program the Sphero to make polygons using the Macrolab app.  (We used the free 2D Geometry lesson from Sphero offered on this page.)  There is an app that allows you to drive the Sphero free-hand, but it’s difficult to make exact shapes that way.  Macrolab gave us the tools to be more precise.

The students needed a good 90 minutes to practice making different polygons.  The next step was to sketch a design. I absolutely loved listening to the conversations about the math involved as they tried to figure out the angle degrees for each command.  Despite their experience with the complexities of Sphero programming, the students started out with grand, complicated sketches.  After doing dry runs, however, they realized they needed to scale things down a bit.  Sketching and practicing took about another 90 minutes.

After many practices, each group came to our improvised drawing board.  Although I loved the plastic pool idea, I realized that the bottom wouldn’t be flat enough to keep the Sphero in control.  I brought a piece of drywall to school that had been sitting in our garage.  We used some extra cardboard to add some sides to it.

With disposable gloves on, the students manually rolled the Sphero around in a puddle of paint, then set it up on the “canvas” and started their program.  I should mention here that I was describing my day to my husband and he said, “You should have just put the paint in a plastic baggie and rolled the Sphero in that.”  Hopefully I will remember that idea next year…

Photo Apr 01, 12 58 59 PM
Preparing a nubby-covered Sphero for making art

As you can see, the results of using a programmed Sphero were a bit different than the above photo.  Personally, either method looks fabulous to me.  The students agreed.  As soon as they were done, one of them immediately said, “We should find out if we can hang these in the front foyer!”

Can you identify when they used the nubby for their lines?

You can see some video of our “technique” below.

After the experience we got into some good discussions about what art is and why the Sphero might not have always acted according to their expectations.  Although this probably isn’t a lesson that could happen in the regular classroom due to time and equipment constraints, I think it worked well for my little group of 6 students!

Canva for Education

I first posted about Canva about 18 months ago when it was in its beta stage.  Since then, this amazing graphic design service has: become a full-fledged website, launched a mobile app, and unveiled its education services (which include sign-in with Google Apps for Education).

I was one of the educators approached by Canva to write some lesson plans utilizing their resources.  (Full disclosure: I was paid for this service.)  You can also find plans from Vicki Davis, Paul Hamilton, Steven Anderson, and William Ferriter.  These plans include many different disciplines and grade levels. In addition, you can access excellent specific graphic design tutorials provided by Canva.

If you are looking for app-smashing ideas for Canva and ThingLink, try these from Lisa Johnson (TechChef4U).  Lisa also explains how to use Canva’s public profile feature in this guest post on Free Technology for Teachers.

One of my favorite things about Canva is how the company has really reached out to educators for suggestions and ideas.  As you will see on their Canva for Education splash page, they have a board of Education Advisors, and I can personally attest that Canva keeps in regular contact with us to find ways they can improve their product.

Canva is free, but it also offers graphics for a fee.  It’s easy to train your students to identify the free images, backgrounds, etc… so their projects don’t end up costing money.  In addition, they can upload their own images, and take advantage of Canva’s free templates to design eye-popping presentations, posters, and collages.

If you have students in elementary school, I recommend that you create one account that your students will all access.  This will allow you to keep track of their projects and, if you are in a school where students share iPads, then this account can stay logged in.

The best way to get started with Canva as a teacher is to open a free account and start using it yourself.  Make blog graphics, picture collages, quote posters for your classroom.  Once you see how easy it is to create something that looks professional, you will come up with your own ideas for ways to integrate it into your classroom.

A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva
A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva

 

Rush Hour Shift

As regular readers may know, my students and I are big fans of ThinkFun games in our classroom.  The logic and problem-solving skills embedded into each one equal the entertainment value, which makes teachers and learners happy.

ThinkFun recently sent us one of their new games to review – Rush Hour Shift.  This name may sound familiar to you.  Rush Hour has been one of the most popular games in my classroom for years.  It’s meant to be a single-player game, though my students usually work in pairs or small groups to solve the increasingly difficult challenges of sliding a car through lanes of traffic to the exit.  The new version, Rush Hour Shift, is a 2-player game – and I predict it will be the new favorite in my classes.

Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun
Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun

In Rush Hour Shift, there are 3 interlocking plates that make up the traffic grid.  Each player is trying to slide their car to the opposite end.  Different challenges direct you on how to set up the “traffic” on the grid before starting.  Each player is dealt a set of cards, and can only make the moves that are on the cards.  These moves include sliding the other cars around or shifting one of the interlocking plates.

My daughter (12) and I tried the game first.  She beat me two out of three times.  (Spatial reasoning has always been one of my weaknesses.)  I was addicted – but I think my daughter was getting frustrated with playing against someone so obviously beneath her level.

Yesterday, three of my 5th grade girls tried the game out.  They had earned the privilege of  “testing” a game and went into the empty classroom next door to play.   The rest of us were trying to solve some wicked sudoku-like math puzzles, and were soon finding ourselves distracted by the uproarious laughter coming from the game-testers.

I peeked in on the girls, and they were having a great time.  They had easily figured out the instructions, and were taking turns playing each other.  When I asked them if they would recommend the game to others, they vigorously agreed.  Jokingly, one of them commented,  “But not if you want to keep your friends!”  Apparently Rush Hour Shift has the ability to spark some friendly competition.

One thing that we all agreed on was the potential for many hours of fun with this game.  For each of the 10 game set-ups given, there are endless ways the game can be played based on the cards that are dealt and the choices each player makes for using them.

We did receive Rush Hour Shift free to review, but I would definitely choose to purchase one for a birthday gift in the future.

If you find this game interesting and would like to see some other products that I have recommended in the past, check out this Pinterest Board.

Invisible Ink Books

This Friday’s edition of “Gifts for the Gifted” may be a blast from the past if you ever went on long trips as a child without the benefits of electronic entertainment systems.

When I was little, preparing for travel consisted of packing a bunch of books to read and a few books of puzzles.  I can’t remember ever flying in a plane without one of these invisible ink books.

You can still find them in stores.  On the rare occasion I visit a Cracker Barrel, there is usually a display of invisible ink books.  Most of the ones you see these days are products of movie advertising, like Toy Story or Frozen.  But I was amused to come across some of the classics while browsing the “New Products” section of MindwareOnline.

Invisible Ink Books (image from Mindware)
Invisible Ink Books (image from Mindware)

My absolute favorites as a child were the Mr. Mystery Secret Agent Spy ones.  (You can find More Mr. Mystery and The Return of Mr. Mystery online as well.) I loved the challenge of the puzzles and the independence that the invisible ink pen gave me to become a detective in my own imaginary world.

mrmystery

I got my daughter one of these a couple of years back for an upcoming trip, and I think she enjoyed them just as much as I always have.  Of course, in retrospect I probably should have gotten one for myself, too!

For more ideas for gifts, check out my Pinterest Board.

gifts

Oh hi

Most of the trouble I get into is when my daughter is late getting done with swim practice.  I get bored and start clicking on Twitter links.  Before I know it, I’m addicted to a new game.

Ian Byrd from @byrdseedgifted tweeted the link for “Oh hi” out a couple of days ago.  For those of you who enjoy Sudoku, this logic puzzle should be right up your alley.  For those of you who think Sudoku is evil – you’re welcome.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.22.47 PM

Oh hi” is browser based, and the game appears to work on any device, which makes it even more wicked.

I have lots of devices.

I’m not going to try to explain the game because the site does a good job with a simple tutorial.  Basically, you need to get the same amount of blue squares and red squares in every row and column without repeating the pattern.  However, you can never have more than 2 of the same color adjacent to each other. There are 4 levels: 4×4, 6×6, 8×8, and 10×10. I’m still on the 8×8 – mostly because I like the feeling of being somewhat challenged and majorly successful at the same time.  Frankly, I only got that far because of my daughter’s encouragement ;)

If you’re struggling to find an activity to fill in small time gaps during the last couple of days before Thanksgiving break, this might be a good option!

8x8 Oh hi