Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Bloxels

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

gifts

I wrote a review about Bloxels back in February after I received my Kickstarter version and let some second graders test it out.  Here is what I wrote:

“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
image from Bloxels home page

 

Reef Simulation

My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills.  This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes.  They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world.  I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef.  The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react.  With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.

With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.

Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually.  They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans.  To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.

After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!”  They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…

Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.
Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.

 

Hour of Code 2016

I think it was three years ago that I signed my classes up for the first time to participate in the Hour of Code.   I was determined that year that every grade level I met with during the week (gifted students, 1st-5th) would participate.  I’m one of those people who jumps into things without knowing enough to be scared – which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the occasion.  In this situation it worked out great.  We tried all kinds of programming I have never done before, and we have experimented with many more ever since. There were lots of moments of frustration, but many more moments of excitement.

I don’t have enough knowledge to claim that I am an expert on any of the programming languages.  But I am known in some circles as a “techie,” so no one believes me when I say that you can participate in Hour of Code even if you have never coded in your life.  When our entire school took the plunge a couple of years ago, there was a lot of trepidation.  After that one experience, however, few people blinked an eye about doing it the following year.  In fact, many teachers waved off any offers of help from the community or skilled students because they knew that Code.org does an excellent job providing resources for all ability levels.

One of my students once said, “Mrs. Eichholz doesn’t let us use technology.  She lets us create with it.”  And that is why I love giving students the opportunity to learn how to code.  Coding incorporates everything I believe in: collaboration, problem-solving, communication, perseverance, growth mindset, and creativity.  Not every student loves it, but every student learns from it and feels empowered with the knowledge.

If you have never participated in Hour of Code before, I am asking you to try it this year.  As I often say during presentations, your students are actually at an advantage if you don’t know a lot – because you won’t help them too much.  From classrooms equipped with 1-to-1 technology to those that have zero computers, Code.org has you covered with tutorials and resources.  And, if you have participated before, note that Code.org has been busy adding new activities so your students can build on what they have already learned.

Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11, 2016, is next week.  Hopefully, you can participate in your Hour of Code then.  If not, the resources are always available and great to use any time of the year.

Here is a link to my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board for more ideas to bring coding into your classroom.

from Hour of Code
from Hour of Code

The Teachers’ December Survival Kit (Redux)

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.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632

12 Actions to Maximize the Value of a Teacher’s Time

In my latest article for Fusion, I give advice to school systems, teachers, and parents to help make education more efficient in ways that will benefit the students as well as all of the stakeholders.  Click here to read, “12 Actions to Maximize the Value of a Teacher’s Time.”

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And, just in case you missed them, here are my previous articles for Fusion:

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Osmo Coding

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

gifts

Osmo first made the “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, the company has continued to push the envelope as it produces more interactive, educational games for children that combine physical pieces with the digital interface of an iPad.  Here is what I wrote about Osmo’s “Coding” game this summer:

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding

GoNoodle Has an App!

My students, particularly those in the K-3 grade levels, have really enjoyed using GoNoodle for brain breaks in our classroom.  The kids enjoy the music, the great variety of videos, and the movement.

Now students can log in to their own iOS devices at home to jump, dance, and sing with their favorite GoNoodle tunes. The iOS app is free, but students will need a parent to sign up and log them in the first time.  Make sure the child has a good place to set up his or her device for viewing while participating (an Apple TV is great for this!) so he or she can have hands-free fun!

GoNoodle is a great way to get the family moving before or after a heavy holiday meal, or after a long car trip to grandma’s house🙂

Download the free GoNoodle app now!
Download the free GoNoodle app for iOS now!

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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