Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Gifts for the Gifted – Sleuth and Solve

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

If you know children who love riddles, like the ones on TED Ed, and are about 8 years and up, you might want to consider getting them one of the Sleuth and Solve books (there are two) by Anna Gallo and Victor Escandell. Each book has more than 20 short riddles with fun illustrations and the answer behind a card you can fold down. I have only previewed the one with the black cover (not the History one), so I can’t describe both, but I imagine their format is similar.

The riddles use icons to communicate to the reader whether or not they can be solved using logic or imagination, and there are stars to indicate their difficulty levels (six stars being the most difficult). Some of the riddles are familiar, such as “Crossing the River,” while others are definitely new to me. One feature that I really like is that the book describes how it can be played as a game, encouraging families (or groups in class) to keep track of the cases they solve and how many points they earn for each solution based on the difficulty level. As I mentioned in last week’s gift post, you can really maximize the impact of any gift if you, the giver, play along with the recipient. And, don’t assume you will have to “play dumb.” Some of these riddles are quite diabolical.

I am giving you a link to these books from one of our new local bookstores, Nowhere Bookshop. The store is owned by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, also known as “The Bloggess.” Unfortunately, their grand opening coincided with the pandemic, so they have only been able to operate virtually. I’d love for you to support them so they will be able to survive and one day open their doors. If you prefer to support another independent bookstore, you can find some on

For those who love mysteries and riddles, here is a link to a past recommendation from this series, Invisible Ink books.

Google Jamboard Templates and Ideas

I’ve recently seen a large uptick in visits to my Google Jamboard post, as well as people sharing Jamboard templates and ideas on social media. One person who is particularly creative and prolific in creating Jamboards is @GiftedTawk, and I’ve been curating as many as I can from her Twitter feed. Whether you are looking for graphic organizers to use with Jamboard (or Padlet, or even Slides) like these from @ergoEDU or mindbending creativity and logic challenges like this pentomino Jamboard from @GiftedTawk, you are sure to find something ready-made for your class in this list. There are also some tips on the list, such as how to embed a Jamboard in Seesaw, and how to “freeze” your background on Jamboard so it doesn’t get moved accidentally. A few Halloween Jamboards are in there, just in case you are looking for some last-minute activities for this week. (I’ve also put them in my “Halloween During a Pandemic” Wakelet.)

For a “live” updated list of Google Jamboard Templates and Ideas, click here. If you have any others that I should add to the list, let me know!

Evaluating Online Information

I recently curated an entire list of sites to help teachers use in the classroom for lessons on evaluation online information – and most of the links on the list came from Facebook. I am not ignorant of the irony in that statement, but I will say that the particular Facebook group that this came from is my favorite and most educational – the Distance Learning Educators group. If you are looking for help or ideas in anything related to distance learning, this group is extremely knowledgeable and supportive. When a teacher recently asked for advice for lessons to use with her 12th graders about fake news, a stream of educators responded, and most of the answers were new to me.

My recent post on Factitious and Spot the Troll was beginning to get a bit unwieldy as I kept updating it, so I decided to move on over to a shareable list on Wakelet. (Here is my post about Wakelet in case you are new to it.)

This is a live document, so I will continue adding resources as I find them. I hope you find at least one useful link for your own classroom in this list!

Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay

Peel The Fruit Slides Activity

UPDATE 10/13/2020: Here are links to some more Thinking Routine activities I made on Google Slides: 3-2-1 Bridge and Step Inside Monster Box.

I am a gigantic fan of Harvard’s Project Zero Thinking Routines. As distance learning has become a necessity for many teachers and students, I have been pondering what these routines might look like when conducting virtual discussions. I was in the middle of designing an interactive Google Slides presentations for one of my favorite routines, “Peel the Fruit,” when I saw a tweet from Dr. Catlin Tucker sharing some slides that she had made for Thinking Routines. Fortunately, my work was not a duplicate, as her slides are for 5 other great routines!

For my “Peel the Fruit” presentation, I linked the source I’ve adapted it from in the first slide. You can also see some other important links on this blog post. The 2nd slide in this presentation was actually designed on a Master Slide so that students don’t inadvertently change it. The slide has links to each of the student slides, so that when it is time to discuss, the teacher can click back and forth from each “layer” of the fruit. The home button on each student slide brings you back to the original diagram.

I envision that once a class has begun to study a topic, the teacher can assign students to begin on different slides, typing their comments in the tables. They can move onto a different slide once they have commented. If you need new slides, I would add them to the end, or else your hyperlinks will need to be changed. Once students have added their thoughts, the teacher can discuss with the whole class, and go over the reflection at the end of the slide show.

If you have not used this Thinking Routine before, you can see videos of it in action with a 4th grade class here. (Scroll down.)

To make a copy of my Peel the Fruit presentation for your own use, click here.

Factitious and Spot the Troll

UPDATE 10/22/2020: I found so many more websites for evaluating online information that I corrected a Wakelet list. Click here to view it.

Like many of you, I am worried about the misinformation flying around on social media, especially lately. The incendiary posts that seem to be easily flung from one person to another are exacerbating the anger and hopelessness many are already feeling due to months of restrictions.

It’s more essential than ever to teach our students how to look for reliable sources and information. I generally use if I am fact-checking anything, and it seems extremely unbiased and well-balanced. If you are looking for other potential fact-checking sites, this page from the American University Library has a list.

While I was looking at the AU site, I noticed a link to a game called, Factitious. You can play the game to determine whether news articles are fake or genuine. The original game is from 2018, but there is also a Pandemic Edition. The game seems suitable for middle school and up.

Another interesting quiz to try, which was shared on Facebook (sorry, I can’t remember who share it with me!) is the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub game, Spot the Troll, shows you social media profiles of 8 different account, and you must decide if they represent real people or not.

Both of these games give more information about how to spot “fakes” online. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, as the people behind this misinformation are becoming more sophisticated. The biggest takeaway is to never accept what you read online at face value without doing some digging – especially if it seems designed to incite fear or anger.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

One-Hole Punch Puzzles

I am so not proficient when it comes to spatial reasoning.  This makes sense to me because I can’t think of ever really practicing it as a child.  I didn’t build with Legos or blocks, and I wasn’t really into jigsaw puzzles.  Mostly, I read a lot.  That means I’m generally a decent speller, but when I try to sew a face mask you will have to turn it right side in to make it right side out.  Or something like that.  Let’s just say my very un-straight stitches are very visible on the side of the material that you would normally want people to see.  And, yes, that is with a sewing machine.

So, as I spend the second half of my century of life trying to visualize what comes naturally to everyone else in my family, I would like to re-iterate that spatial skills are pretty important, and aren’t really a big focus in most schools.  Regular readers will know that this isn’t a new theme on this blog, and here are some past posts that I’ve done with other great resources: Spatial ReasoningSpatial Puzzles, and a bunch of reviews of apps and games.

Today’s spatial reasoning resource would have been so fun to do with my engineering students.  It comes to us from Mark Chubb (@MarkChubb3), who offers these One-Hole Punch Puzzles on his blog, Thinking Mathematically.  I’ve seen puzzles like these on some aptitude tests, but usually the questions show how a paper was folded and punched, and you have to select from the multiple-choice the subsequent result when unfolded.  In this hands-on twist, Chubb produces the results, and students have to use their own pieces of paper and one-hole punch tools to demonstrate where the paper must have been folded and punched.

In a pre-Covid class, we could have shared hole punchers and then had a huge confetti party.  Sadly, this may not be an option for any teachers anytime soon, but I encourage home-schoolers, parents, and anyone who can’t sew a mask to give these puzzles a try.

Hole Punch Confetti
Image by Monsterkoi from Pixabay