Category Archives: Problem Solving

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 DIY.org 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

Curiosity Machine

Curiosity Machine is a wonderful resource for educators and parents who are interested in cultivating a love for S.T.E.M./S.T.E.M. as well as making.  The site aims to cultivate “curiosity, creativity, and persistence” to help children succeed by offering hands-on engineering challenges.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 8.08.08 PM

The challenges are in a vast array of topics from aerospace to food science to satellite systems.  One topic that interests me is biomimicry, as my 2nd graders are currently studying the physical adaptations of animals.  All of the challenges walk students through the design process, something that has become increasingly recognized as an educational necessity for citizens of the future.

Educators, parents, and students can access the challenges by getting a free membership.  Educators are able to create class groups, but students must join first before being invited to a group. If students are under 13 years old,  parents must first complete a consent form.  However, educators and parents can join themselves to access the materials and use them without the need of student membership.

There are also paid memberships, These include mentors (professional engineers and scientists) on student projects , training for parents and educators, and online support.

To get some great ideas for building, inventing, and problem-solving, visit Curiosity Machine and explore its wealth of resources!

A Teacher’s December Survival Kit

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.  Here is an example of a student’s work.  He chose to “Substitute” globes for snow to make an “Earthman.”

earthmanjpg

These weeks will fly by and probably be quite chaotic – but there’s no reason they can’t be fun, too!

Gifts for the Gifted – Rush Hour Shift

Around this time of year I post a gift recommendation each Friday as part of a “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  The title is a bit misleading, as it might imply that the gifts are only for children who have been endowed with the label, and that is certainly not true. Just as with any gift, you should select a product that suits the interests of the receiver.  These lists of potential gifts that I provide are ones that I feel will be engaging for children who enjoy problem solving and/or creativity.

Earlier this year, in March, I posted about a new game from ThinkFun called, “Rush Hour Shift.”  Longevity is always part of the criteria for the toys and games that I recommend, and Rush Hour Shift definitely fulfills that requirement.

Since I started teaching GT 14 years ago, Rush Hour has been one of the games immediately pulled out during indoor recess times.   Designed to be a single-player game the player sets cars up on a grid based on the challenge card he or she is playing.  Then, the player uses logic to slide the cars around so that the red car can exit the grid.

The only drawback to Rush Hour was that many of my students wanted to play with a partner, which sometimes resulted in squabbles as one person would get increasingly frustrated when the other could not see the “obvious” solution and try to take control.

Rush Hour Shift nicely resolves this issue.  In this two-player game, what can seem to be a relatively simple challenge can quickly become difficult when the players use the cards they’ve been dealt to change the traffic grid in the blink of an eye.

Rush Hour Shift by ThinkFun
Rush Hour Shift by ThinkFun

As you may observe in the picture above, the grid is made of three plates that can be “shifted” in order to block your opponent’s car or free your own. When it’s your turn, you must carefully choose a card in your hand to indicate what kind of strategy you intend to use to get your car closer to the end of the board on your opponent’s side. With 10 different game setups, 32 cards, and the unpredictable decisions that can be made at every juncture, the potential for months of game play is obvious.

Rush Hour Shift is recommended for ages 8 and up.  Children are quick to figure out the rules, and enjoy playing over and over again to try to outwit their opponents as they learn new strategies.

Some other ThinkFun games I’ve reviewed in the past are: Gravity Maze, Shell Game, Last Letter, and Robot Turtles.

For other recommended gifts for the holiday season, check out this page or my Pinterest Board.

gifts

Gifts for the Gifted – Dash and Dot

Around this time of year I post a gift recommendation each Friday as part of a “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  The title is a bit misleading, as it might imply that the gifts are only for children who have been endowed with the label, and that is certainly not true. Just as with any gift, you should select a product that suits the interests of the receiver.  These lists of potential gifts that I provide are ones that I feel will be engaging for children who enjoy problem solving and/or creativity.

Our first product in this year’s Gifts for the Gifted recommendations is the lovable pair of robots, Dash and Dot.

Wonder Workshop, the company behind Dash and Dot, knew exactly how to encourage youths to program and create when they put these robots on the market.  They definitely have the cuteness factor wrapped up, and they were designed with so much versatility that will keep imaginative children occupied for a very long time.

Wonder Workshop provides a suite of free apps that can be used with the robots.  “Go”  allows users to start with the basics in controlling the robots. “Path” is a game that can be played.  “Xylo” is for Dash to play a xylophone (a separate accessory), and “Blockly” offers the opportunity to control the robots using block programming language similar to Scratch.

The recently release “Wonder” app presents more complex programming, which a good reader should be able to master by going through the “Scroll Quest” tutorial portion of the app.

In addition to the xylophone designed for Dash, another fabulous accessory pack you should consider adding on is the “Building Brick Connectors.”  Add these to your robots, and you can build Lego costumes for them, chariots, and whatever else you might imagine.

Image from medium.com
Image from medium.com

Wonder Workshop provides excellent support (one of our Dash robots sadly crashed and they immediately replaced it), and tons of ideas for using Dash and Dot.   The company has a teacher portal with lessons that incorporate the robots. (Full disclosure, I wrote one of these lessons, but did not receive any payment for doing so.)

Currently, there is a Wonder League Robotics Competition in which some of my students are participating.  The deadline for signing up has already passed, but I would recommend downloading the missions that are posted for even more Dash and Dot activities.

Dash and Dot are suitable for students up to about 5th grade.  My 1st and 2nd graders think they are absolutely adorable and treat them like class mascots.  The upper grades also anthropomorphize them.  “Oh my gosh!  He’s so cute!  Look, he’s coming right up to me and looking at me!”

If you are purchasing Dash and Dot for home, I would recommend that you play with the robots along with the child.  They will get much more enjoyment with the guidance of an adult.

And you might just fall in love with the Dash & Dot Duo yourself :)

For Gifts for the Gifted recommendations from past years, check out this page.

gifts

VentureLab

I attended an amazing professional development yesterday that was hosted by Trinity University.  In San Antonio, we have a company called VentureLab, which bills itself as “Entrepeneurship Education for Kids.”  Members from the company presented yesterday’s workshop, and led us through the steps of inventing and pitching products that solve problems.

In addition to the fact that the session was very hands-on and not a typical “sit and get” training, I found it to be extremely relevant to what many of us already teach our GT and Maker Club students.  In the past couple of years,  more and more “design thinking” has become embedded into the curriculum, as well as the importance of a growth mindset.  Both of these are key ingredients for teaching about entrepeneurship.

I am hoping to integrate what I learned into our Genius Hour projects this year which means, yes, I’ll be tweaking that part of my curriculum once again.  I’ll be using design thinking to better plan the design thinking part of my lessons.

Okay.  I think I might have just blown a few neurons up with that last thought.

Anyway, I want to thank  VentureLab for helping our group to develop an idea to help teachers that will one day make us so much money we won’t need the idea;)

I can’t show you the idea because you might steal it.  Yep. It’s that good.

This isn't our idea. It's from "The Invention of the Telephone" on Wikipedia.
This isn’t our idea. It’s from “The Invention of the Telephone” on Wikipedia.
This isn't our idea either, but I really like it. And it has a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use, generously shared by Sha3teely
This isn’t our idea either, but I really like it. And it has a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use, generously shared by Sha3teely.

If you’re in the San Antonio and Austin areas, you should definitely check out VentureLab for more information on their camps, field trips, and school visits.  They know how to make learning relevant and fun.

(P.S.  A big shout-out to April, a reader of this blog, who I met at the VentureLab workshop.  So glad to meet you!)