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Critical Thinking, Games, K-12, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted – Building Road Breakthrough

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

For this week’s gift recommendation, I went with a logic game that can appeal to a wide range of ages (3+) for different reasons. It initially appealed to me because I thought my nephew, who is about to turn 3, might like it. It has 2 things that he currently likes — a truck and marbles. Surprisingly, my teenage daughter also found it fun, so this toy definitely scores highly in the area of multi-aged/generational play.

This game scores low on durability because there are many pieces that could easily get lost, including a few marbles. No containers are provided other than the plastic they are packaged in, which isn’t reusable. However, I found a gallon storage bag keeps everything together nicely other than the 4 large pieces that fit together to make the base of the game.

A challenge book is included that scaffolds the puzzles from primary to master. The object is to get the windup truck from the starting tile to the final tile, where it deposits its marble. The colored pictures in the primary level show where to place the tiles, gradually adding more pieces, so young children can work on copying the 2d version to their 3d pieces, and then cheer when their truck reaches its destination. After that level, the puzzles show how to set up some of the tiles, and then the player must figure out where the other tiles need to be placed in order for the truck to have a successful journey. Like many logic games, this toy is technically for one player, but I would suggest that two or three could collaborate on solving the challenges. As I usually suggest, it’s good to go through the challenges in order as the easier puzzles build up skills that are useful in the more advanced ones. Of course, my daughter did not follow this advice; after doing a challenge in each section with some considerable trouble, she went immediately to the last one…

Though I found this particular product on Amazon, there seem to be a lot of other versions out there with slightly different names, so you can definitely shop around.

selective focus photo of pile of assorted title books
3-12, Books, Games, Language Arts

Bring Your Own Book

A couple of months ago I bookmarked a Tweet from TCEA sharing this article from @LindsayAnnLearn. I finally got around to reading it, and I found tons of ideas for learning games to use in an ELA secondary classroom. (If you do Socratic Dialogues in your classroom, I recommend taking a look at how she uses playing cards to spice it up.) Some of the games are sold commercially, but could be adapted easily for upper elementary. One of them is, “Bring Your Own Book,” from @DoBetterGames, and the good news is that you can download your own printable cards and instructions FOR FREE if you subscribe to their newsletter. Scroll down to the part of this page until you see, “Print & Play/Mailing List.”

There are four sets of rules: Classic, Democratic, Royale and Cutthroat. For any of these version, the players sit in a circle, each with a book of his/her choice. Cards with different prompts are turned over (one for each round), and the players need to try to find a quote in the book that matches the prompt. The main difference in the versions is how it’s determined who wins each round with the “best” match, for which that player wins a card. Once a player has obtained 4 or 5 cards, depending on the number of players, they are declared the winner. Here are some examples of prompts in the printable version:

Click here and scroll down to subscribe and receive your own printable cards and instructions.

You may need to remove some of the prompts depending on the ability levels of your students. The free download also includes blank cards so you or the students can add your own. I love the idea that you could do this with self-selected books that students are independently reading or even assigned class novels.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that there are also some free add-ons in the email you will receive, like these samples from the “Christmas Revelers” page:

If you’re looking for more game ideas, definitely take a look at Lindsay’s post. Also, here is a post I published for NEO on using talk show games in the classroom, and I’ll be adding this post to my Wakelet of Fun Stuff.

Books, Critical Thinking, K-5, Language Arts

Gifts for the Gifted – Guess The Three-Letter Words

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

The stats from my blog show me that word games are still pretty popular as people are still regularly visiting my post on different versions of Wordle and my article about the word ladder game, Fourword. With that in mind, I thought I would test out a book called, Guess the Three-Letter Words, Logic Puzzles for Kids, for this week’s gift recommendation.

In recent years, I’ve tried to link to author sites or independent bookstores when I give book recommendations. However, this book seems to be only available on Amazon and does not appear to have an author (listed only as “Learn & Fun.”) When you click on the link for “Learn & Fun,” you’ll be directed to this page, where other puzzle books are listed. I’m guessing “Learn & Fun” books are self-published, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter if they have the content you’re looking for.

In this particular book, there are 100 puzzles, divided into “Easy” and “Hard.” Each puzzle resembles a Wordle, except that these are all 3-letter words and two out of three responses are shown. Using the information you get from those two responses, the solver should be able to figure out the final, correct answer. There is an alphabet grid next to each puzzle, so the solvers can use the process of elimination to help them out. There is also a legend, similar to the one in Wordle, to show which letters are completely wrong, which ones are in the right place, and which ones are correct but in the wrong place.

This book would be good for younger students who are beginning readers/spellers. It’s probably not very challenging for anyone over 8 or 9 years old. However, some of the puzzles do have more than one correct answer. Usually, some of those options are not traditional primary school vocabulary, so as a teacher I would definitely ask students to come up with all of the options to see if some of my high achievers can uncover the more rare possibilities. And, of course, they could then attempt to make some of their own puzzles — possibly with more letters.

This would make a nice stocking stuffer if you know a young wordsmith, or you might want to check out the other books by this company to give a child a bundle they can work on while traveling or when you want them to put away their screens.

Sunflower grown as part of citizen science project (sunflower)
3-12, Art, Creative Thinking, Math

Celebrate Fibonacci Day on 11/23 with Leo + Lea

Some of you may not be in school on Fibonacci Day (11/23) as it is during the U.S. Thanksgiving Week. Maybe you can celebrate it early, or when you return to school. No matter when you do it, there are plenty of ways to recognize the significance of this unusual number sequence, which has inspired mathematicians and artists for centuries. You can begin by visiting Donna Lasher’s “Fibbing Can Be Fun” page where you will find videos, puzzles, and lesson ideas. I have more links in my November Wakelet and you can also find some related links in my Math, Art, and Nature collection.

A new link I will be adding will be to the picture book, Leo + Lea. Written by Monica Wesolowska and illustrated by Kenard Pak, this story was inspired by a student the author met who was only interested in numbers. In this delightful tale, a burgeoning mathematician, Leo, meets Lea, who is obsessed with art. The two become friends. As the story unfolds, so does the Fibonacci sequence in words, numbers, and colors.

You can see a 90 second video in which the author and illustrator explain how the book developed here.

You might also be interested in this article written from both of their perspectives. Monica includes a free Fibonacci poetry handout on her site. If your students write some mathematical verse, you might be interested in submitting them to Donna Lasher’s Poetry Gallery here.

The products that can be dreamed of when a subject as logical as math intersects with the creative arts of writing and illustration will never stop seeming magical to me. I think your students will appreciate them, too.

Learn more about Leo+Lea here.
3-12, Games, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Asteroid Escape

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Asteroid Escape is produced by “Smart Games,” and if you end up liking this one you may want to visit their site to find others that are similar. Asteroid Escape is a lot like the classic Rush Hour game that you can find in many Gifted and Talented classrooms, with a spaceship and asteroids replacing the traditional cars and trucks. Like last week’s pick, this one is great for developing spatial reasoning skills. But Asteroid Escape comes with a booklet of scaffolded challenges, showing how the game board should be set up at the beginning each time, with the ultimate goal of sliding the pieces around so the spaceship can “escape” the asteroids by sliding down the only exit ramp.

You can purchase Asteroid Escape by Smart Games here.

This game is for 8 years and up. Though it’s technically a one player game, I like to recommend partners — especially a child and an adult if this is the first time the child has played this type of game. Taking turns on the challenges and thinking out loud is a great way to model the problem-solving needed. My 19-year-old daughter and her friend immediately turned to one of the hard challenges to test out the game (which I never recommend because children usually get frustrated and give up). Having grown up with me, my daughter grinned as I chided her, but stuck with it and solved the puzzle. After that, she and her friend were addicted, and returned to it several times over the weekend, commenting that the “ramp is satisfying.”

With a clear plastic dome that you can pop over the top, Asteroid Escape is portable and it’s easy to keep the pieces together. It makes a good travel game, classroom center, or challenge for “fast finishers.” I think it would be a good gift for anyone who enjoys puzzles and is interested in space.

Since I like to find independent toy stores to support when I do these recommendations, I am going to link to “Toys to Love” in Houston, Texas, where you can shop online or in-person. You can also go to the Smart Game website to find a store near you.

boy in red sweater wring on notebook
K-12, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

10 Retrieval Activities + 1 Choice Board

You may recall my mention of retrieval practice in my post about the +1 Visible Thinking Routine. To briefly recap, scientific studies show that retrieval practice done in intervals can help learners to retain more information. These activities are like short pop-quizzes in that you are asking students to recall as much as they can without referring to notes or texts. But, while a pop quiz is used for the teacher to assess, the purpose of retrieval practice activities are to help students learn, so they should not be attached to grades. Ideally, they are woven into your teaching day and can take the form of games, classroom warmups, and even exit tickets. The +1 Visible Thinking Routine is one way to do retrieval practice, but I recently discovered some more ideas on Twitter.

It started when I noticed a Tweet from Brendan O’Sullivan (@ImtaBrendan) where he shared a choice board of “settler” activities. Now, I don’t know about you, but the word, “settler” makes me think of dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail or getting obliterated by my family when we play Catan. Once I found out from Brendan that these are a term for activities used “to get your class settled, to give them focus and moving towards learning,” the board made a lot more sense to me. (This is the fun thing about Twitter. Brendan is from Ireland, so I appreciate him helping us non-Europeans learn a new term!) Brendan’s choice board is a nice way to have students do some retrieval practice when class is getting started.

Settler Choice Board from Brendan O’Sullivan

I then noticed a Tweet from Liesl McConchie (@LieslMcConchie) where she shared a link to her mini-book of “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention.” Although it is math-focused, you can easily do the activities in any classroom. For example, I could see using the “Quiz, Quiz, Switch” activity in any grade level or subject (possibly using pictures for students who are pre-readers).

Retrieval Practice example from Liesl McConchie in her mini-book, “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention

You can download more free mini-books from Liesl on her website.

By guiding students with retrieval practice activities, we will not only help them to retain more important information, but we are teaching them a valuable skill they can continue to use as lifelong learners.