# Zoombinis

A few months ago I gushed about a Kickstarter campaign that promised to bring one of my favorite computer games ever, Zoombinis, to the 21st century.  Due to the success of that campaign, the Zoombinis app is now available on iTunes and Google Play. Windows, Mac, and Kindle Fire versions will be available later this year.

I was excited to download the app a few weeks ago when it finally became available to Kickstarter supporters. Back when we were allowed to download our own software, I had the game in my classroom for my students to play.  I highly respected the logic skills the game promoted, so when my daughter was younger, I bought a version for her to try at home.

My daughter is now 12, and vaguely remembers playing the original game.  I guessed that she would like the app, but I did not predict the high level of engagement that I’ve observed the last few weeks.

The Zoombinis game is all about logic.  Your goal is to get the Zoombinis to their new home, navigating through perilous puzzles along the way.  Each Zoombini has the following attributes that can be mixed and matched: hair, eyes, feet, and noses.  The challenges are based on those attributes.

For example, the Allergy Cliffs have 2 bridges.  If you place a Zoombini on the correct bridge, the little guy will quickly cross.  If it’s the wrong bridge, the cliff sneezes him or her off.  You have to figure out the “rule” for each bridge.  Only blue noses?  Only the ones with glasses?  Carefully test your theories before too many sneezes make you lose some Zoombinis.

There are several different types of puzzles along the journey. If you aren’t good at one, that’s okay; the puzzle remains on that level until you’ve mastered it. Each puzzle is tailored to your skills, so after a few trips to the end you may end up with different puzzles on different levels of difficulty.

One particular favorite is the pizza puzzle.  You must figure out exactly what toppings Arno wants on his pizza.  Children quickly learn that you need to be methodical because random guesses will end up with a Zoombini or two getting booted off the screen.

Playing Zoombinis together is a fun way for my daughter and I to bond.  It’s also a great opportunity to model problem-solving skills. One of the most frustrating qualities of the game is also one of the best qualities – very few instructions are given.  Watching a child struggle is never easy, but the way his or her face lights up when solving a Zoombinis problem makes it all worthwhile.

The Zoombinis app is \$4.99.  This may seem like an enormous amount for an app, but I guarantee that it’s worth it.  It teaches so many thinking skills and sustains interest for a very long time.  If you are a teacher or a parent of multiple children, you will be happy to know that different students can save games on the same iPad so their progress won’t be lost.

This game is cute, fun, and educational.  What are you waiting for? Download it today!

# 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.

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.

# Help Desks

As my students gear up for this year’s Global Cardboard Challenge, they will also be researching a charity to which they will donate the proceeds from their cardboard arcade.  I want them to keep in mind Angela Maier’s mantra, “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution,” and to cultivate their empathy along with their creativity.

As I was thinking about how to inspire my classes this year (many of whom have already seen the Caine’s Arcade videos), I ran across this video from an organization called, “Aarambh.”  Committed to helping students become more comfortable in their schools in rural areas of India, Aarambh found a way to make combination desks/backpacks out of discarded cardboard.  For less than 20 cents in American dollars, a child can be outfitted with this invaluable piece of equipment.  This is a great video to show students so many things:

• the value of an education
• how fortunate many of us are to receive a free education with numerous resources
• how simple, yet creative, ideas can have an incredible positive impact
• that recycling is not just a luxury but an imperative

Before you click on the link below, you must agree to the following statement:

“I will not hate Terri Eichholz for the rest of eternity just because she introduced me to this horribly addictive game that got me fired from my job because I couldn’t stop playing.”

Agreed?

Okay.

It’s Phun Phriday, and I found a really fun game that I’ve been wanting to share with you all week.  It’s called “Game About Squares.” It’s online and HTML 5, so you should be able to play it on mobile devices.  (I haven’t tried because I don’t want to start over!)

I am currently stuck on Level 14, and I am not a happy camper.  I’ve been making myself solve at least one new level every time I get on my home computer, but I tried two last night and got stuck.  I’m sure I could find the answer on the internet somewhere but that kind of defeats the purpose.

Right?

Check back with me in a few days and see if I’m still feeling that ethical about it…

# Chrome Cube Lab

Well, it’s Phun Phriday, and I am being completely selfless by sharing a site with you that I find more torturous than fun ;) You see, I was never a huge fan of the Rubik’s Cube.  I have some sort of visual/spatial disorder that makes finding my car in parking lots and solving the Rubik’s Cube without removing all of the stickers impossibly frustrating for me. However, as many of you know, one of the Google Doodles this week was an interactive Rubik’s Cube. Fun – if you like that sort of thing…

But then I saw a link on Joe Hanson’s “It’s Okay to Be Smart” to Chrome Cube Lab. And, for some reason I followed the link.  And I found some amusing digital ways to utilize the Rubik’s Cube. I was able to use “Type Cube” to create the image above. Then I stupidly clicked “Done” and scrambled it. But then it miraculously unscrambled itself. To me that is the best kind of Rubik’s Cube!

The other tool I liked was the “Image Cube.”

Then I thought it would be cool to offer one of those blog contests; you know, I could scramble the images and give a prize to the first person to identify all of the posts they came from.

Then I realized that I have no prizes to give out.  Then I got distracted by adding different backgrounds.

Then I realized I had wasted about as much time as I usually spend trying to find my car in the mall parking lot…

# Osmo

A little background for those of you new to this blog: I teach Gifted and Talented students in Kinder through 5th grades.  I have been teaching for 23 years, and a parent for 11.  I love educational technology – but I love my students and my daughter even more.  I only endorse products that I think will benefit children and are of good value.

It seems like a simple thing. Set up an iPad vertically on a sturdy base.  Place a small mirror over the iPad camera, and pieces that are on the table in front of it are instantly recognized by special apps designed for this purpose. Suddenly, the tangible and the digital interact in a way that few have imagined.  And, just like that, you have Tangible Play’s Osmo – an educational learning tool that will transform the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Instead of students working in isolation, they gather around Osmo to collaborate. Instead of silently concentrating on trying not to slam a bird into a pipe, students discuss strategies and brainstorm ideas. Instead of mindlessly consuming images and information, students creatively interact with each other and this set of iPad games that require problem-solving and higher order thinking.

The evolution of this game is a testimony to how developers and educators can work together to create a product that is a valuable learning tool.  From the beginning (and I was fortunate enough to get in on the early stages), the Tangible Play developers sought out educators to beta test their project.  They created a Google account where teachers could give feedback and suggestions.  This interaction, and subsequent changes made to the games, showed that those of us in the classroom have an important voice and our experience can be a great asset to developers of educational technology.

Some examples of changes that I’ve seen:

• The Tangrams game originally had a “Cheat” button. Due to teacher recommendations, this was changed to a “Hint” button.
• The Words game began as a Red Team vs. Blue Team game.  Now, there is an option for a cooperative game

Numerous other revisions have occurred in the games – and they have all been for the better.

Osmo currently has 3 apps that can be used with the set: Words, Tangrams, and Newton.  The Words game is the hands-down favorite for my students.  I am partial to it, as well, because it allows you to create your own sets of pictures.  As any teacher can imagine, this opens up a world of possibilities for content reviews and teaching new concepts or vocabulary.  It also makes Osmo an asset to a teacher for any age group or subject, as you don’t have to rely on the Words game provided (though it’s awfully fun, too).

I love how the Tangrams game scaffolds for students.  It allows them to start with simple puzzles, and then choose more difficult ones as they work through it.  They also have to earn points in order to use any hints.

Newton is pure fun and has great potential for creativity as students try to think of tangible ways to keep the digital ball on track.

I am recommending Tangible Play’s Osmo for 2 reasons.  Number 1 is that it is good for children.  I can personally attest that it fosters collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. The second reason is that the company behind this product is genuinely interested in getting it right.  When I first received the kit, the developers did a Google Hangout with my students and me to help us set it up and answer any questions we might have.  (Of course, once the game was set up, the students were no longer as interested in chatting as I was!)  Since then, they have been in regular contact through e-mail and Google Plus.

Osmo officially launches today.  They are currently accepting preorders at a 50% discount until June 22, 2014 – to be shipped in the fall. Discount price will be \$49 for the base + Tangram, Words and Newton.

For teachers – even if you only have 1 iPad, this is FABULOUS for centers or even for projecting on the big screen.  For parents – my 11 year old daughter and I love playing this together.  It’s easy to make it into a fun family game!

I cannot recommend this product highly enough.  I have been using the free beta test version, and I am still purchasing more, if that tells you anything!  Watch the video below to see this amazing educational set in action.

If you choose to purchase an Osmo, please use this referral link.

# Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)