Category Archives: Critical Thinking

17 Free Printables for Thanksgiving

To justify the hours that I spend looking for “just right” activities for my gifted students, I try to share as much as I can on this blog.  Yesterday I hunted for critical and creative thinking activities with a Thanksgiving theme, and found quite a few that you can print for free.

From Minds in Bloom (Rachel Lynette) on Teachers Pay Teachers:

From Growing Gifted Minds on Teachers Pay Teachers:

From various other authors on Teacher Pay Teachers:

From other sources:

Some of my past Thanksgiving posts:

image from

Critical Thinking Cheatsheet

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation has a page of resources on its website that includes the free Critical Thinking Cheatsheet.  The downloadable PDF has excellent question stems that students can use when trying to analyze a topic more effectively. You can see a sampling of the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions stems in the image below.

You will need to register on the site before you can receive your download.  However, there are several other free resources that you can also access once you login, so it is well worth taking 30 seconds to sign up.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 5.57.04 PM
from Global Digital Citizen Foundation Critical Thinking Cheatsheet

I plan to give this sheet to all of my students so they can use it to understand current events better.  A great site this could be “smashed” with is Newsela.


“What’s Going on in this Graph?” is a new feature from the New York Times that will appear on the second Tuesday monthly for the rest of this school year.  Building on the success of a long-running similar activity,  “WGOITPicture,” this version posts a graphic that has appeared recently in the NYT, with much of the information removed.  Students are encouraged to analyze the image by thinking about these three questions:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?
  • What’s going on in this graph?

There is a comment section where students over 13 years old, (or teachers) may post their observations, questions, and extrapolations.  A moderator from the American Statistical Association gives online feedback on the day the graphic is posted, and then the actual details are revealed at the end of the week.

The first “What’s Going on in this Graph?” was posted yesterday.  According to the caption, it has some connection to Hurricane Harvey – but what, exactly?  That is for your students to try to discern.  From the comments I have read so far, there are some extremely perceptive students attempting to decipher the graph’s meaning; it will be fun to see the answer on Friday!



myRebus is a fun tool that teachers can use to create picture sentences for students to solve.  For example, I made the one below for the students who signed up for my summer Google Classroom.  Can you tell what it says?  The site allows you to type in any sentences and it will generate the rebus for you.  It does ask for you to input your e-mail to have the rebus sent to you, but I just take a screenshot.  This could be a fun alternative for spelling practice or even a strategy to get students to pay attention to directions on an assignment.  Another great use is for Breakout Edu clues! For students who want to create rebus puzzles, they can use this site, or you might want to take a look at this lesson plan I wrote for Canva.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 5.17.47 PM.png

Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.


When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

Terry Stickels

Do you crave brainteasers?  Do your students delight in them?  (Many of my students do!) Terry Stickels is a world-renowned puzzlemaster who has published several diabolical books of challenges and authored weekly puzzle columns in many newspapers.  You can find out more about him here.  One type of “stickler” that has made him famous is called, “Frame Games,” which are like rebus puzzles, but placement and size of the text give clues as well.  For example, the picture below would translate as, “I understand.”

I Understand.jpg

On the Terry Stickels website you can find many free brainteasers, including a series of “Frame Games.”  There are coin puzzles, variations on sudoku, and several other types of challenges.  Some can be downloaded in tremendous zip files, and others are meant to played online.  Whenever you are looking for a way to pass the time, (such as during the summer break) and still exercise your brain, this is a resource you should definitely consider!


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!