Category Archives: Critical Thinking

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.

Makerspace Essentials – Legos

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials Legos

Legos may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to maker space essentials, but it actually took me awhile to realize that we needed to add them to our inventory.  There were a couple of reasons I resisted their inclusion:

  • Many of my students have Legos at home, so there seemed to be no point in offering them at school as well,
  • I’m an idiot.

My students have been working with Lego robots for a few years, so I didn’t see the need for any additional tiny pieces ending up on the floor waiting to ambush me.  And, to be honest, I kind of got stuck on the kit part of Legos, which didn’t seem like the best outlet for creativity.

We added a few last year because some of my students wanted to do a Lego stop-motion film for Genius Hour.  The small box of Legos a parent donated seemed like plenty to me.

But then we kept getting robots that included Lego adapters and students kept asking, “Where are the Legos?” and our pitiful supply did not impress them, and I finally gave in and sent out an all-call to parents and staff for more Lego donations.

Legos, like cardboard boxes, are ubiquitous, it seems.  Before I knew it, we had several bins of Legos, donated by parents and teachers who were grateful to re-home them, and my students were happily digging through the pieces to find the perfect accessories for their robots. (I’ll be talking more about the robots in tomorrow’s post.)

Some of the robots, like Sphero, don’t even come with Lego adapters.  Yet my students managed to find a way to create a Sphero chariot with the donated Legos.  The slideshow below shows Legos with Cubelets and Edison also.

 

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If you don’t have robots or the materials to do stop-motion, here are some other ideas for using Legos in a maker space:

The Lego Education page has more information on their robotics kits and other products designed specifically for schools.

Click here for a list of Lego-related posts I have done in the past.

For more maker space ideas, here is my Pinterest Board.

Makerspace Essentials – Little Bits

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials

Little Bits are modules that snap together magnetically to make circuits.  The colors help to distinguish between output and input modules, and there are endless combinations to be made with over 60 modules in their library.  You can see an introduction to the product here.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LittleBits2.jpg
image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LittleBits2.jpg

Little Bits offers a variety of kits, and gives discounts to educators.  If you are unable to purchase directly through Little Bits due to vendor approval complications, you can also often find their kits on Amazon.com.

If you browse through the lessons page on the site, you will get an idea of the unlimited creativity and learning that these pieces potentially provide.  Math, science, and storytelling are all included in this curriculum gallery.

When we first got our Little Bits set, I found these Task Cards that help to introduce some of the basic pieces.  They were great for me to learn how the modules worked.  However, most of my students preferred to figure it out on their own.  You might want to try these Challenge Cards instead.  If you like those, here are some more.  Of course, you need to make sure the challenges match the supplies you are providing as different kits offer different modules.

Organizing your Little Bits can be a challenge.  I’ve seen some librarians mention that they have a “Little Bits Bar” with plastic drawer organizers that sit on the table.  I was thrilled when Little Bits offered this Tackle Box on their site – perfect for separating hundreds of tiny pieces.  One maker space presenter at TCEA advised us not to get “hung up” on labeling all of the Little Bits containers.  As long as the students organize them by type so the next users can easily find them, that should suffice.

Ayah Bdeir, an engineer and founder of Little Bits, gave a TED Talk about her product in 2012.  She speaks about how her product helps students to make sense of the world.  “The nicest thing is how they start to understand the electronics around them from every day that they don’t learn at schools. For example, how a nightlight works, or why an elevator door stays open,or how an iPod responds to touch.”

If you are given the opportunity to purchase Little Bits for your classroom, library, and/or maker space, I definitely recommend them!

For more maker space resources, check out my Pinterest Board, “Make.”

Free the Zoombinis!

Games have their place in education, but my students know that I tend to emphasize creation rather than consumption – especially when it comes to technology.  Few “education” apps pass muster for me, but I have a feeling this particular one will be on my “Gifts for the Gifted” apps list this December.

I first discovered the magic of the Zoombinis decades ago in my 5th grade classroom.  My students were enamored with the cute little creatures who needed to be guided to their new home through various levels in the TERC/Broderbund game, “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis.”  Not only was the game fun, but the logic and problem-solving that it demanded were scaffolded extremely well, allowing students of different levels to feel successful when they played.

To be completely honest, I bought a personal copy of the game, and spent many nights with my young daughter (and without her) trying to advance through the different challenges.

Unfortunately, as technology advanced, the Zoombinis disappeared from my classroom.  We can no longer install our own software in our district, and I’m not sure the few games still available through online retailers would work on our newer operating systems.

I was thrilled, therefore, to see a Tweet yesterday that the Zoombinis have launched a Kickstarter!  TERC is teaming up with Fablevision and Learning Games Network to release an app for tablets as well as newly designed desktop software later this year. The Pizza Trolls, the Allergic Cliffs, the Fleens, the Lion’s Lair – they are all coming back with graphics optimized for today’s devices.

To learn more about the Zoombinis Kickstarter project, click on the image below.

zoombini

Reflections on our GT Twitter Chat

A few weeks ago, a few of the teachers in our district participated in a Twitter Chat.  The topic was to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Education.  You can read more about the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. chat here.

After the chat, a few of the GT teachers suggested that it might be fun to try doing the same chat with our students.  So, last week, we decided to try it.

I’m not sure how many schools ended up participating in the chat, but I believe there were around 13 classes.  Some of us had the students respond to the teacher who then tweeted out the answers, and some of us allowed our students to group up and use various devices.  It was not smooth-sailing.  Here were some of the glitches:

  • Twitter and Tweetdeck are blocked under student sign-in in our district.
  • Tweetdeck kept refreshing and losing columns at the beginning of the chat in my classroom (maybe for other people, too).  We surmised that this might be b/c more than one device was using the same account.  However, after we refreshed the page on the 6 laptops it seemed fine.
  • Some of us couldn’t see each other’s tweets because some of our accounts are private.  We made sure we were all following each other beforehand, but that still didn’t seem to help everyone.  Fortunately, everyone knew the questions ahead of time, so even though they couldn’t all see them, they could guess by the responses which question had been asked.

Overall, it was an eye-opening experience for the teachers and the students.  Most of my students (5th graders on that day) had never used Twitter and finally understood the use of hashtags.  Many of them saw ideas that were new to them and got different perspectives on the topics.

For example when we went over the questions before the chat, one of my students was adamant that we should eliminate art from the curriculum.  I told him that he would probably find that many people would disagree and that he would have to be able to support his viewpoint.  Sure enough, others strongly argued that art is vital. This exchange turned out to be an excellent lesson on multiple perspectives as well as social media etiquette.

A student from another school suggested getting rid of free time – which caused a public outcry in my classroom.  However, a few minutes later the writer explained that he or she disliked all of the time wasted when students finish work early and are just “told to read a book.”  Again, another lesson on how important it is to ask people to explain themselves instead of just immediately condemning their opinions – also a lesson that the brevity used in social media can sometimes distort the message you are trying to communicate.

After all was said and done, I asked my 18 students to complete a reflection about the experience.  (Yes, we did old-school handwriting b/c some of their typing can be painfully slow!)  When I surveyed them, most of them gave the chat a 2 or 3 (3 was the highest).  However, there were a couple of 1’s.  Understandably, those students found the whole procedure to be too chaotic and fast.

Would we do it again? Yes, I think seeing different points-of-view is really helpful for my students. I’m still debating the importance of keeping our account private.  I also am considering giving students the option of participating or not.  Those who opt out can consider the topic in an alternative way.

If you are interested in doing the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. chat in your district, here is a link to the document Kimberly Ball (gttechguru) made for us to use to prepare the students for the chat.  And, if you’re not ready to do Twitter, check out this great Google Tweeter Template from Tammy Tang that will help you to simulate the process!

 

 

Love Doesn’t Always Defy Logic

I was going to title this post, “VD is Making me ADD.” Fortunately I realized that was a bad idea – for so many reasons.

Well, I kind of lied.  I have been saying for two days that all of my posts this week would be about the TCEA conference I attended last week.  But then one Valentine resource popped up.  And then another.   And I thought that some of you might actually want to learn about them before Valentine’s Day which, of course, for those of us in the U.S. who follow the Hallmark Holiday Calendar, is this coming Saturday.

Even though it’s not my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day does lend itself to some fun classroom activities.   I’ve already posted a bunch of resources.  It’s kind of sad, actually, that I have more links to Valentine’s Day resources than Presidents’ Day.  I think it’s a silent rebellion against working  on a day that the students get a holiday…

Anyway, here are a couple more to add to the list of ways to have fun  teach critical thinking and problem solving skills that are vital for standardized testing ;)

Valentine’s Day Sudoku – I have some other links to online and printable sudoku puzzles here, but these free printables are particularly well-suited for Kinder and 1st graders.

Hopscotch Hearts – I thought it would be fun for my students to use Hopscotch (the iPad coding app) to make something Valentine-y, and they have been working on their own ideas on and off for a couple of weeks.  (You can see what a few of my 2nd graders have done so far here – most of them haven’t finished, yet.)  Then I saw a tweet from Hopscotch about a new tutorial they just posted to make a “Pixel Art Heart.”  My 3rd graders tried it out yesterday and really liked it.  A few of them finished the code and then started modifying it to make the heart bigger or smaller as well as different colors.  A couple of other students messed up on the code and I loved watching their peers working with them to try to figure out where they went wrong. (Because I had absolutely no idea!)

So those are my two off-task suggestions for today.  I would promise that I’ll be back to the plan tomorrow, but who knows what will capture my attention between now and then?

Pixel Art Heart

 

CommonLit

I was so thrilled to see this post by Richard Byrne (who is one of my favorite Engaging Educators!) about CommonLit.

This is going to be an awesome resource for me to use with my 4th and 5th grade GT students.  I will let Richard tell you the details, but suffice it to say that it is a great way to encourage deep discussion in your class, and offers downloadable texts that you can use to tantalize your students with philosophical questions.

image from CommonLit.org
image from CommonLit.org

I plan to use this with Socratic Smackdown (which I also found out about from Richard).  Socratic Smackdown has been a great success in my classroom and CommonLit will augment it even more.

You might also want to consider using some of the CommonLit themes to enrich your students’ writing if they are participating in this year’s Philosophy Slam (deadline is 3/6/15). The “Social Change and Revolution” theme on CommonLit could definitely help students determine if violence or compassion has a greater impact on society.