Category Archives: 3-12

Puzzle Your Kids

Eric Berlin, author of the Puzzling World of Winston Breen series, has a site called, “Puzzle Your Kids.”  The site includes a page where you can download the puzzles from each of his three Winston Breen books, as well as a store page where you can purchase some of his puzzles.  A real deal for teachers and parents is the subscription to his puzzle newsletter.  For free, you can get a new puzzle in your in-box each Friday.  Or, for the $5/month subscription, you can get that plus bonus puzzles.  The puzzles are designed for 8 years and up – though some students will need more guidance than others.  I got my first puzzle last Friday, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students!

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Frog Jumping

Gordon Hamilton is the amazing mind behind one of my favorite math sites, Math Pickle. (For a list of interesting math sites, check out this post.) Numberphile is an awesome YouTube channel for anyone passionate about math.  So, when the two collaborate, you know that it is going to be good.  “Frog Jumping” is one of Hamilton’s recent math challenges featured on Numberphile. I would definitely invite your students (probably 3rd grade and up) to try each problem he poses throughout the video – pausing for them to make their attempts. As for his final frog-jumping challenge, I may have to take him up on it, although it’s hard to imagine that I could solve something that eludes Gordon Hamilton!

Frog Jumping
screen shot from “Frog Jumping” video by Gordon Hamilton and Numberphile

EV3 Vending Machine

I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students.  He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club.  He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter.  There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design.  Super cool!

15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep

My students, especially my 4th and 5th graders, love math challenges.  If I can, I find ones that don’t show the answer so we can all try to figure them out.  I think it’s good for the students to see me struggling (and I really do!), and how I handle frustration over particularly devilish problems.  Last week, my 5th graders and I spent a good 30 minutes on this “easy” problem on Steve Miller’s Math Riddles page. (Technically, they had an excuse since they hadn’t exactly learned the math skill needed to solve the problem – yet.)

If you are looking for some unique math problems that will feel more like brainteasers than standardized test practice, here are some sites that I haven’t mentioned before:

And here are some that bear repeating (*sites include activities for primary grades, K-2):

With more and more articles coming out every day about the importance of modeling a good attitude toward math (like this one and this one), it seems kind of as simple as 1+1=2 to come to the conclusion that the people who have fun doing math will be more inclined to do it more often.

image from: fdecomite on Flickr

What to do When Genius Hour Sucks

I’ve been doing Genius Hour for several years with my gifted and talented students in 3rd-5th grades.  Yet, every year I end up thinking that I could have facilitated it better. Because I want to keep improving, I’ve documented some of my ups and downs on my Genius Hour Resources page.  It helps to look back at some of those posts and remind myself that Genius Hour doesn’t always go well and that I’ve come a long way from my first Genius Hour attempt – when my 5th graders rewarded me with blank stares after I announced they could study anything they wanted.

Yes, Genius Hour sucks sometimes.  There are some days I dread it because I know the chaos will drain all of my energy, or because I just can’t think of any other way to explain how to summarize research without copying, or because everyone will have a Genius-Hour-Emergency-that-only-Mrs. Eichholz-can-handle at exactly the same time, or because a student will refuse to believe me when I say that no one wants to read 1000 words in tiny text on a slide that is going to be read out loud anyway, or because I have to keep repeating, “Yes, I know you are passionate about meat [or other randomly chosen topic], but how will you convince your audience that they should care?”



So, I try to remind myself of all of the obstacles we’ve already overcome, that the students will become more independent if they are given more opportunities to practice being independent, and that we are all learning. A lot.

The other day I felt a bit defeated because I realized I was wrong when I thought I had figured the solution to getting more substance out of the presentations rather than fluff. A few students did practice presentations for a “focus group” of peers, and my heart sank when it became apparent that, once again, the fluff far outweighed the stuff.

During a break, I quickly Googled student Genius Hour presentation videos online to see if I could find an exemplar to give the students.  As I watched several videos, I realized that they also didn’t meet my expectations.

The logical conclusion?  My expectations are too high.  I was being too hard on these kids.  After all, what did I expect – a TED Talk?

Whew! What a relief.

I came home and started preparing my next blog post, looking up some articles I’ve bookmarked on Pocket.

How to Get the Best Work From Your Students,”  caught my eye.  I clicked on it.  And discovered the harsh truth.

I’m not done yet.

I have done a lot of what Eric White suggests.  I am creating rites of passage, critiquing the critiques, etc…  But this is where I need to dig in and keep going – not give up.  Yes, I have high expectations.  Yes, it may take several rewrites and rehearsals for the groups to meet my expectations.  After watching Eric’s video of the student who had revised several times, I see it is worth it.  The sense of pride she felt when she met those high expectations was visibly joyful.

So, if Genius Hour isn’t working for you, and you feel somehow guilty that you aren’t doing it right, you are not alone.  Maybe we are the only two teachers in the world having trouble with it, but at least you know there is someone else out there who questions its worth.  I can also tell you, though, that I’ve seen it work.  That’s why I keep trying and why I think you should, too.

I Don't Know What I'm Doing
image from: Duncan C on Flickr

The Hidden Secret to Understanding the World

In my 4th grade gifted and talented class, the students study masterpieces.  In addition to masterpieces of visual art, we talk about literary, musical, and even mathematical masterpieces.  When I saw the title for Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk, “Math is the Hidden Secret to Understanding the World,” I thought it might fit in well to the mathematical masterpiece section.  Little did I expect that it would tie everything together that we had discussed all year.

I should mention that this year’s 4th grade class has some very passionate mathematicians in it.  They worship Pi, see Fibonacci in everything, and sit on the edge of their seats whenever I mention that a math activity is imminent.  But I wasn’t sure they would find Antonsen’s talk as revolutionary as I do.  I was willing to overlook the mathematical examples that were over my head in exchange for appreciating the bigger picture, but would they?

Fortunately, Antonsen’s visualizations managed to maintain their focus, and even their awe at some point, as he gradually brought his audience around to the idea that mathematical equations and representations are actually different perspectives (a few heads raised a bit whenever he said this word, as we regularly talk about multiple perspectives).  The “a-ha” moment, however, was when Antonsen said this, “So let’s now take a step back — and that’s actually a metaphor, stepping back — and have a look at what we’re doing. I’m playing around with metaphors. I’m playing around with perspectives and analogies. I’m telling one story in different ways. I’m telling stories. I’m making a narrative; I’m making several narratives. And I think all of these things make understanding possible. I think this actually is the essence of understanding something. I truly believe this.”

There were audible exclamations in my class when the word, “metaphor,” was used.  We started the year by learning about figurative language.  And the concentration in 4th grade in Texas is on Writing as it is tested at this level for the first time.  So, looking at math as a way to tell stories and show different perspectives really captured the attention of my students.

I often tell my students about my childhood struggles with math, how I was often congratulated on my writing skills but made holes in my math assignments due to all of the erasures.  It wasn’t until high school that I had a few great teachers who taught me to love math and helped me to see that my only obstacle had been my own fear of the subject.

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from Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk

If I had seen Antonsen’s TED Talk when I was in 4th grade, things could have been different for me far sooner.  Instead of feeling like math divides people into those who can and those who can’t, I might have realized that math is actually the language that brings us all together.

Word Mandalas

I am such a geek.  Last night, I was researching mandalas for an upcoming lesson with my 4th graders.  I remembered that Richard Byrne had just published a post about a new online magazine creator, so I thought it might be fun to try it out and let my students collaborate on the magazine.  Then, I started looking for images to put on the magazine cover, and came across a mandala that used words instead of symbols.  There was no information on how it was created, so I did a search for word mandalas – and that is how I landed on Mandific. (I still haven’t discovered how the original word mandala picture I found was made, but that’s okay.)

Type a word into Mandific, and it will create a mandala for you using the letters of the word.  You can adjust the color, the spacing of the letters, and the design.  See if you can figure out my word in the mandala below.

mandalaword art
Word Mandala created with Mandific

H/T to GeekMom for sharing this tool on a blog post.

Then, I continued my search (I won’t tell you how long I spent on Mandific before remembering my actual mission.) I found  Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.

Created with

As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time on that one because I had suddenly become obsessed with finding the perfect word mandala generators.

My next attempt was with using the word cloud generator, Tagul.

Word Cloud
Made with Tagul

I also tried Tagxedo, which will allow you to upload your own image to make into a word cloud. However, I had so many problems with it not loading correctly on three different browsers, that I finally moved on to some iPad apps.

WordFoto has always been a favorite of mine.  I uploaded a photograph of a mandala from the web, and then added some text. If you are not familiar with WordFoto, here is a post I wrote about the app.

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created with WordFoto app

My last word mandala attempt was created with the TypeDrawing app. I uploaded a mandala photo, and then traced the main lines with words and some of the symbols offered in the app. After completing my drawing, I changed the photo opacity setting so that only my drawing shows. I have to say that this was my favorite creation.

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created with TypeDrawing app

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I will keep you posted on what we use! If you have any other ideas for word mandalas (that don’t require expensive software like Photoshop), please let me know in the comments below.