Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, K-5, Math

Valentine’s Day: Some “Heartfelt” Resources for Teachers

If you’re looking for some “heartfelt” Valentine’s Day resources for teachers, this post has got you covered!

In the process of trying to update and collect my downloadable resources from over 11 years of writing this blog, I decided to start a “store” (located under “Downloads for Teachers” in my top menu) hosted on my website. The purpose of this store is not for me to make money, but to make it easier for teachers to search and filter through my resources. It has been a slow process, and I haven’t worked out some of the kinks. But I think it will be worthwhile eventually.

You do need to create a free login in order download items from the store. The majority of the items are free. However, I’ve decided to sell bundles of items for a low fee, donating $1 out of every $5 earned to teacher projects on Donors Choose. I am slowly removing my items from Teachers Pay Teachers and will eventually host everything I create on my store with the multiple goals of giving teachers easy access to free resources that are good for students and hopefully earning money to give back to teachers who have amazing ideas for which they need funding. Currently, all of my S.C.A.M.P.E.R. resources are available in the store and I am now working on getting my Visible Thinking Routine resources added.

Would You Rather Valentine’s Day Math for Elementary

While working on my store, I recently updated my “Would You Rather Math?” for Valentine’s Day using a cute Canva template. You can download the new PDF here. For the old versions (including Google Slides and PowerPoint), as well as a more detailed explanation, here is the post I originally wrote when I made this resource based on the work of John Stevens and his WYRM website. Want the free Canva template link so you can edit it and make your own? I’ll be posting it in this week’s newsletter, so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

I haven’t had a chance to update and upload this next Valentine’s Day resource to the store, but if you like to give out something other than candy for Valentine’s Day (or any time of the year), these QR Code Coupons that I made way back in 20212 are a cute option to insert into an old chocolate box or into Valentine’s Day cards for your students.

If you are looking for more Valentine’s Day Resources, you can check out my Valentine’s Day Wakelet here.

a young girl holding her toy microphone while singing
3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Language Arts, Student Products

NPR Student Podcast Challenge

Way back in the early 2000’s, I convinced my then-principal to purchase a MacBook for my classroom. Another teacher (shout out to Diane Cullen at Fox Run Elementary!) and I sponsored a media club after school designed for 5th graders who were struggling in their classes. Our goal was to get them excited about school by getting them excited by creating for authentic audiences. Our little group started playing around with Garage Band, and began producing podcasts for the school. Those, along with their iMovie commercials, not only entertained and energized all of us but also helped to build school community. It was probably one of my first experiences seeing how producing something to be heard, seen, or used by others (Design Thinking) can be a powerful motivator.

I had no idea back then how popular podcasts would become. We had no resource materials when we started, fumbling along as we learned on our own. But now there are plenty available, and the tools for production have expanded way past Garage Band. I detailed many of these resources in an article for NEO almost two years ago on “Podcast Pedagogy.” I also recently blogged about “International Podcast Day“, which occurs annually on September 30th of each year. I still think that Smash, Boom, Best is one of the best gateways to podcasting for younger students.

Now I’d like to bring your attention the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. And before you dismiss it because you don’t think your students are ready to enter a contest (submissions are being accepted until April 28, 2023, possibly March 24th according to the Podcast Guide for Students?) or they are not in the age range (grades 5-12), I would still like to recommend taking advantage of the educational resources provided. You can listen to past winners and even a podcast about student podcasting. There are free downloads for teachers and for students that are useful for helping students to prepare, plan for, and produce podcasts. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. In fact, according to the NPR Podcast Guide for Students:

We don’t expect you to be experts. In fact, we expect that most of you are putting a podcast together for the first time.

And even though this is a contest, it’s also about learning new skills in a fun way. We want to make that learning easier — so we’ve put together a guide to help you along the way.

NPR Podcast Guide for Students

It can be daunting as a teacher if you have no experience, but it’s a good opportunity to model a growth mindset and learning along with your students. You could start by giving the option to a small group of advanced students and expand from there, or do one all together with the caveat that I always used, “I have no idea how this is going to go, but I love to learn new things even if it’s from my mistakes, don’t you?” Even if students design podcasts just for practice to begin with, there are so many useful skills students will learn such as researching, summarizing, outlining, and writing for an audience. Podcasts are just one of many great choices to give students when differentiating products so they can demonstrate learning (which my colleague, Amy Chandler, and I will be presenting at TCEA this year), so I encourage you to give it a try!

Link to Downloadable Poster Can Be Found in Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum Guide for Educators
3-12, Books, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted — The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids

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 ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

When I was in the GT Classroom, some of the resources I inherited from the previous teacher were books of “lateral thinking puzzles.” I can’t recall the specific author, but today’s recommendation has similar puzzles and is written specifically for students ages 9-12. Some of the puzzles are definitely suitable for younger, and I have a feeling you could pose others to adults and stump them.

“Lateral thinking” is a term attributed to Edward de Bono, also widely known for his “Six Thinking Hats.” According to de Bono, we use two types of thinking when solving problems — logical or “vertical” thinking and creative or “lateral” thinking. Often a combination of these is needed in order to innovate.

Many riddles/brainteasers have come to be known as lateral thinking puzzles because they challenge you to think beyond the obvious assumptions. Often using puns, words that have multiple meanings, or topics in which we may have unconscious biases, these puzzles often seem impossible until we examine ourselves and try to coax our brain along a new path.

For example, Danielle Hall’s book, The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids, includes a riddle I’ve seen many times with different names substituted, “Alex is Charlie’s brother, but Charlie isn’t Alex’s brother. How is this possible?” The answer is that Charlie is Alex’s sister, but the reason this requires lateral thinking is due to the fact that many think of the name Charlie as predominantly a male name.

You can find this book at Bookshop.org or your favorite independent bookstore.

There are some riddles that I’ve seen before in this book, but many that are new to me. Among the 175 puzzles, you will find some classics like the Riddle of the Sphinx and other more recent creations. Answers are in the back of the book. If you’re a teacher, these riddles are great for transitions and brain breaks. If you’re a parent, they are fun for dinner conversations or car rides. Children will love trying to stump you, and it’s great for the adults to do “think alouds” as they try to solve the riddles in order to model lateral thinking and persistence.

If you’re interested in more brainteasers like these, I have an entire collection here. You might also enjoy this gift recommendation from 2020, Sleuth and Solve. You can also find other book recommendations on my Pinterest board.

3-12, Critical Thinking, Games, Teaching Tools, Writing

Gifts for the Gifted — I Dissent

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 ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

I’ve already referenced this article by @LindsayAnnLearn once in the last few weeks when I posted about her “Bring Your Own Book” game. Let’s just say that I found a lot of gift ideas on her list, and “I Dissent” is one of them. Inspired by the great RBG herself, this game is an entertaining way to give participants practice in the art of arguing, although the stakes are much lower than cases brought before the Supreme Court. In fact, you don’t need to worry about any hot button topics like politics and religion. Instead, be prepared to debate whether it’s okay to wear socks with sandals or if playing video games should be considered a sport.

I Dissent” states that it’s for ages 14+ on the game instructions, but I looked through all of the topic cards and didn’t see any that I wouldn’t use with my elementary students. There might be some vocabulary you will need to explain, such as the word, “irrational,” or something children won’t care about (“the 90’s were better than the 80’s,” for example), but I doubt you’re going to get any parent phone calls for cards like, “dogs would make better drivers than cats.”

The number of players could easily be adjusted to include a whole classroom or a small family of 3. Technically there are enough sets of “Voting Cards” for 9 people, but playing in teams wouldn’t be a problem. Basically, each player/team gets a set of “Voting Cards” with the numbers 1, 2, or 3, and two opinion cards (“Agree” and “Disagree”). A topic card is turned over and whoever is the “Chief Justice” for that round chooses how long players can argue the topic. When that time is up, players choose an opinion card and how many votes they are willing to give up for that opinion. The opinion that wins that round is the one that scores the most votes, NOT the opinion that appears the most. You can only use each of your 8 votes once, so you need to be judicious — pun intended — with your choices. Winners of each round get to keep their “Vote Cards” from the round face up in front of them to count towards the end of the game, while losers of the round return the used “Vote Cards” to the box.

You continue playing 7 more rounds with each person/team getting a chance to be “Chief Justice.” There are also “Dissent Cards” that can be put into the mix, but I’ll let get your own game to learn those slightly complicated rules. At the end, you tally up all of the scores on the “Vote Cards” in front of you to determine the winner.

Once you get the hang of the game, it’s easy enough to make up your own controversial topics to debate, and this could definitely get interesting with a variety of inputs from any age. As Lindsay mentioned, you could also bring in curriculum with home-made topics. And you can add a persuasive writing assignment to tie things together afterward.

I like this game because I really do feel that, as a society we have been regressing in our ability to conduct civilized debates. “I Dissent” can appeal to different age groups and still be hilarious and fun while we guide children toward arguing respectfully. If you want to extend that lesson, try a “Socratic Smackdown” or two once you feel like the conversations are ready for more complexity!

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.

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.