Category Archives: Games


Thanks to my unquenchable Kickstarter addiction, we have a new addition to our classroom called, “Bloxels.”  Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.

image from Bloxels home page



Well, it’s Phun Phriday again.  Once a week I post something that has pretty much no educational value, but somehow struck me as interesting during the week.  This week’s post is about an app called, “Stop.”

My daughter likes to turn me on to apps that are trending with her and her friends.  “You probably haven’t heard of it yet, but you’re going to hear about it soon,” is the way she usually prefaces these announcements.

Stop is a free trivia app available on iOS and Android.  The game is rated for 12+.  When you play, you can choose to play someone you know or a random opponent in cyberspace, which is one reason you might not want to introduce the app to younger students.

To start a game, the app randomly selects categories for you.  You can use points to change the categories if you want.  Some sample categories are: “Things you can’t bring on a plane,” “Things that you hide,” or, “My boss is…”

You then spin for a letter.  Again, you can use points to spin again if you don’t like the letter.  Once your letter is chosen, you must try to name something in each category that begins with that letter.  When finished, you pull down the “Stop” bar.  The ending time is the amount of time your opponent is given to answer the same categories with the same letters.

You can receive no points, half points (if it’s spelled incorrectly), full points, or extra points (if it’s a rare word).  Whoever scores the most points on that group of categories wins the round.  Then your opponent begins play for the next round, sending the categories he or she selected, along with the letter and time limit, to you.

Some people have the strategy to just answer one question and pull the Stop bar down, giving their opponents only a few seconds to try to beat their answer (which you won’t see until after your turn is over).  You don’t know how much time you will have if you are the 2nd person to play that round.

As my daughter predicted, I love the game.  I am absolutely terrible at it, but I keep playing – sometimes just to make my daughter laugh with the horrible answers I enter :)

images from Stop screen shots
images from Stop screen shots



National STEM Video Game Challenge

Mark your calendars for 3/15/16 if you know anyone in grades 5th-12th who has an interest in video games.  March 15th is the day that registration opens for this year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge.  Submissions will be due by August 15, 2016 – which means that students will have 6 months, including some summer ones, to develop their games!

The National STEM Video Game Challenge website does not have all of the resources available for this year’s challenge yet, but there are videos from past years that can give you a good idea of what to expect.  There were also game design workshops held all over the country during the last challenge, which I expect will happen again.

Game design requires creativity, logic, perseverance, and problem-solving  – all essential life skills.   It has the added bonus of being fun. If you are not familiar with some of the more common game design resources available for students, this page will give you some places to start.

If you are looking for more “STEM-spiration,” check out my Pinterest Board for lots of ideas!



For this week’s Phun Phriday post, I am tying in to yesterday’s post about the book, Thing Explainer.  To celebrate his book being published, Randall Munroe shared a game on his website called, “Hoverboard.”  As far as I can tell, nothing catches on fire. However, I am pitifully bad at these types of games, so I may just not have tried hard enough ;)

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 7.19.28 PM
Click here to play “Hoverboard!”

Breakout EDU

My daughter turned 13 last month.  To surprise her, I invited a group of her friends to a place in San Antonio called, “The Panic Room.” The hostess set the scene of the “Museum Heist” up by telling about a museum robbery gone wrong.  The 10 girls were given the mission of finding the most valuable item in the room to save their families from the robber who had taken them hostage.  They had one hour.

The parents were able to watch the group as they worked their way through the clues, all contained in the room.  There were mysterious codes, locked boxes, and secret hiding places.

Did I mention that these were eight 13-year-olds and two 20-something-year-olds?  Oh, and they couldn’t bring their phones in with them.

For the entire hour, these 10 girls ransacked the room, collaborated over clues, celebrated when they cracked codes, and laughed.

In other words, they were engaged in the task the entire time.

“I have got to find a way to use this in my classroom,” I thought.  And then I added it to my mental list of a bazillion engaging ideas that I keep in my Index of Innovation.

Lo and behold, I clicked on a Twitter link yesterday, and found that someone else had the same idea – and they followed it through with resources for educators.

I found the link to Breakout EDU in this article by Nicholas Provenzano called, “Re-Energize Your Classroom in the New Year.”  The post has other fabulous suggestions that you should also consider.  Breakout EDU was new to me, so I followed the link to find out more.

Breakout Edu is open beta right now, which means that the project is still in development, but open to the public to test it out.  The site currently provides six games that are free (with several more to come, it looks like), but you will need to register as a beta tester to receive the password that gives you access to the games along with the clues and answers.  You will need to invest in a Breakout Edu Kit, which includes the basic equipment for any of the challenges.  To do this, you have the option of buying a kit for $99, scraping up your own materials, or individually ordering the pieces you need through the provided Amazon links.

The games that are currently on the site inform you of the target age groups and the ideal group sizes.  Some of the topics are: “The Candy Caper” (3rd-5th grades, ideal groups of 4-6 people), “Decoding the War” (14-adult with groups of 6-12 people), and “The Mad Engineer” (for ages 10-14 with groups of 5-10 people).  There is also information for creating your own Breakout EDU game.

Follow this link for information about a Breakout EDU Game Jam that will be happening this week!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try this with my students! Fortunately, I have rather small class sizes.  For teachers with a regular, or larger, class load, you may need to get creative on how to give everyone the opportunity to try to “break out.”  Knowing the audience who reads this blog, I don’t think that will be a problem ;)

image from: Breakout EDU
image from: Breakout EDU


The Winter Break Survival Guide for Parents

For many families, the second week of Winter Break is when boredom kicks in.  New gifts and games have lost their luster.  No one wants to return to school or work – but lack of structure is beginning to feel less like freedom and more of a chore as everyone tries to find ways to fill up endless hours of do-nothingness.

If the above paragraph describes you, here are some suggestions for making the next week less daunting

  • Winter Break Challenge – For a fun idea that might tear your child away from a screen for awhile, give them a bunch of old board games and let them “re-mix” them to come up with something new.
  • Logical Journey of the Zoombinis – This fabulous game that will teach your child logic and problem-solving skills is available on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.  There is a cost, but it is well worth the price.
  • Apps for Creation – Here are some FREE apps I recommended last year for creation that are still some of my favorites.
  • Makey Makey Something! – If your child got a Makey Makey for Christmas, this post might inspire him or her with some ideas for projects that go beyond the banana piano.
  • Design a Marble Run – Here are 10 ideas for DIY marble runs made from household materials.
  • Build with Slotted Disks – Use the templates to cut out your own disks for building out of cardboard or other sturdy paper.

For more ideas, check out and Design Squad.  Also, don’t forget to read my latest, “Gifts for the Gifted” post for the most valuable present you can give your child.

Your Winter Break Challenge

Your Winter Break Challenge!

Every time we are about to go on a lengthy break, I talk to my students about creative activities they can do if they happen to get bored. One that I usually recommend is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. a board game.  They all nod in agreement that this is a good idea.

Then they all come back from break and shake their heads in confusion when I ask if anyone tried it.

I knew that my execution of this suggestion was the problem.  I never gave concrete examples.  Plus, my audience was a little limited.  Chances are that a child who is two days away from Winter Break does not see much likelihood of boredom during this much-anticipated time of freedom.

The other day I had the board game conversation with my 2nd graders, but I decided to take things a step further.

“What game could you combine with another game to make something new?” I asked the class.


“Umm.  What about if you combined Monopoly with another game?” I prodded.

“Like Jenga?” someone asked.

“Sure,” I said.  “Or Twister.  Wouldn’t that be fun to combine with another game?”

“Twister with Jenga!” someone shouted.  “You build the Jenga in the middle and the first person who knocks it over loses!”

Now they were getting excited.

“Or Candyland!” a little girl exclaimed.  “You could use the Candyland cards to play Twister!”

By the time they left, they had some solid ideas that might actually come to mind during a quiet moment in the next couple of weeks.  I felt encouraged by their enthusiasm, but still concerned that their brainstorming would quickly be forgotten.

Then I realized that the real victim of bored children isn’t the children; it’s the parents.  That’s when I decided that I would send the board game idea out to them, so they could have a handy suggestion sheet when the inevitable, “I’m bored!” complaint slams into their ears.  This would have the added bonus of getting some games recycled instead of tossed in the trash to make room for new ones.

So, I printed out a quick suggestion sheet on Canva, and will be e-mailing it to the parents tomorrow.  I’ve include the image below in case any of you want to use it.  Feel free to borrow and remix my remix if you like!

Your Winter Break Challenge