Category Archives: Problem Solving

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

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

 

Maybe I Should Have Asked If You Would Rather Make Valentines or Eat Chocolate-Covered Ants

Around this time last year, I wrote about using the “Would You Rather?” format for math problems.  This idea was brought to my attention when Richard Byrne posted about John Stevens’ awesome site where he regularly publishes these challenges.  If you have middle-high school age students, I highly recommend that you check out John’s blog.

Because my students are younger, I made a series of my own “Would You Rather” questions last year.  A few of them tied into Valentine’s Day.  You can access the problems and download the slides for your own use here.

Click here for more "Would You Rather" problems!
Click here for more “Would You Rather” problems!

I rolled out the set a couple of weeks ago for new groups of students to try.  I decided this year to give them a format for their answers.  I wanted to make sure they not only answer the question, but show their math and cite any resources they used (we haven’t worked on formal citations yet, as you might notice).  As you can see from some of the examples below, the sheet the students fill in has evolved a bit to make it a little more visually pleasing.

The students are allowed to choose any of the problems they like to work on.  It can be interesting to see their preferences.  What’s fun is that even the students who choose the same exact questions can have completely different correct answers.

I’ve been meaning to make some more of these because I like the multiple steps necessary, what the students learn about searching the web for information (they are working on finding reliable sources right now), and the writing needed to describe their thoughts.  However, I haven’t had the chance to add to the collection.  In the meantime, feel free to use the ones from last year and let me know if you have any suggestions!  And here is a link to the PDF for my latest iteration of journal sheets for these challenges.

Sphero

To continue our Gifts for the Gifted series of 2014, I would like to recommend a little robot that looks like a toy but has a lot of educational potential.

I purchased a Sphero for my classroom late last May, and my students barely had time to unbox it before the school year ended.  As soon as they returned in August, they asked me when it would make its reappearance.  Some of you may remember that it was used by a group during our Cardboard Box Challenge this year.  Three groups of 5th graders worked together to make a huge Sphero maze that was several sections.  It was a big hit at our Cardboard Arcade!

The Sphero isn’t the easiest object to control.  That’s part of the fun. Using one of the “Nubby” covers can sometimes help, but it can also be a hindrance depending on the surface.

But the Sphero isn’t just about guiding a plastic ball around with your iPad.  Sam Patteson (@SamPatue) recently did a guest post on Cool Cat Teacher about how Sphero can be used in the classroom. Orbotix, the company who produces the Sphero, has a page of free lesson plans that you can use to teach math, programming, and other STEM subjects.  Courtney Pepe has used Sphero with augmented reality to inspire creative writing in her class.

If you’re a parent and not a teacher, you may be wondering why I am bringing up all of these educational options.  Don’t get me wrong; there are several apps that make the Sphero pure fun without necessarily being educational, and it can inspire creativity in those kids who like to “make.”  However, you may also want to consider buying one for your child and offering to loan it to his or her teacher for a week or two once your child starts running out of ideas at home.

image from: http://toybook.com
image from: http://toybook.com

You can purchase the Sphero at many retail stores, including Amazon. There is a newer product from Orbotix (Ollie) that may interest you as well.  However, I don’t have experience with it yet so I can’t tell you if it’s worth it.

If you are interested in seeing the other gifts I’ve recommended this year, as well as from years past, check out this Pinterest Board.

Logical Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break

Full disclosure: this first week of December is going to be my busiest week this year. Therefore, I decided to cheat a bit for a few days and recycle some posts from last year. I’ve done a bit of editing to make sure they remain current but otherwise they are the same. Hopefully you still find them useful!

Screen Shot from Winter Sudoku
Screen Shot from Winter Sudoku

Yesterday, I posted some “Creative Ways to Survive the Week Before Winter Break.” But maybe you have a group of students (or even a handful) who have a decided preference for logical thinking challenges, so here are some resources:

One resource I always forget to check (even though I have products listed on there!) is Teachers Pay Teachers.  Here are some free logic packets you might want to download:

This one is NOT free (currently $8), but it’s 213 pages, and chock full of critical thinking activities for 1st-3rd.  Personally, I think it’s well worth the money for this set of “Christmas Critical Thinking Puzzles,” that includes:  Primarily Christmas Logic, Christmas Logic with a String of Lights, Christmas Analogies, Christmas Which One Doesn’t Belong?*  I do not know Susan Morrow, the author of this set – and I am certainly not getting any money for advertising her product.  But, I think it’s a great deal.  Quite frankly, I am very jealous of her talent ;)

*You can also purchase a few of the included puzzle packs separately, if you prefer.

Another idea, which I plan to try with my older kids, is to have them design some Winter Kodable mazes (similar to the app), along with the coding solutions.  This will let them use a bit of creativity along with their logical thinking skills! (By the way, don’t forget about Hour of Code next week!)

More in this series:

Creative Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break!

Shell Game

For this week’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post, I have another great product from ThinkFun. It’s called, “Shell Game.

gifts

The concept of the game is to place the colored hermit crabs under the shells as directed at the top of each challenge page.  You are then supposed to slide the shells around (without peeking underneath) until you think you have moved the colored crabs to the new spots shown on the bottom of the page.

Shell Game from ThinkFun
Shell Game from ThinkFun

If you think Shell Game is easy, you’re probably not playing it correctly! I learned this from my 4th graders who seemed to be going through the challenges kind of rapidly.  I sat down with them, and realized they were just moving the shells around.  To truly meet the challenge, the player must slide the shells only along the lines provided.  This makes it much harder.

ThinkFun games are always a fan favorite in my classroom, and this one is no exception.  Although it’s designed for one player, I can usually allow up to 3 students at a center with the game, and they take turns on the challenges.

This game is recommended for children 8 and up.  I would definitely agree with that recommendation.  I think younger children would get frustrated or play the game incorrectly.

One of my students came up with an interesting solution to the problem of remembering which crab was under each shell.  He turned the shells different ways for each color so he always knew the crab hidden underneath.  According to him, this “isn’t cheating, just a good strategy.” I have to admit that is a clever way to keep track of the colors as you whisk them around the page!

Some other recent reviews I’ve done of ThinkFun games are Gravity Maze and Robot Turtles (a nice center to have during Hour of Code). Also, if you are looking for more educational toys and games, I have a Pinterest Board here.

My Gifts for the Gifted series will continue each Friday through the end of December. Here is a link to last week’s post, the first in this year’s batch.

(Full Disclosure: I did receive Shell Game for free to review from ThinkFun.)

Star S’Mores

This week’s Phun Phriday post is the hilarious Sesame Street parody of Star Wars – Star S’Mores.

Star S'mores from Sesame Street
Star S’mores from Sesame Street

How can Flan Solo keep himself from eating his best friend and partner, Chewy? Watch the video below to find out if Darth Baker has the answer!