Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Kids Philosophy Slam 2017

Is the pen mightier than the sword?  I think you may guess where I side when it comes to that question – but it’s how our students feel that matters to the folks at the Kids Philosophy Slam.  Students from K-12 are invited to submit their responses to the prompt by March 10, 2017.  You can read about the rules for each category here.

If you are looking for resources on philosophy to use with your students, “Teaching Children Philosophy” may be a great place to start.  For this particular topic, you might want to try the “Ethics” page.

With older students, you might want to introduce the topic with this attention-grabbing Geico commercial:

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/95304400
Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/95304400

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Bloxels

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.

gifts

I wrote a review about Bloxels back in February after I received my Kickstarter version and let some second graders test it out.  Here is what I wrote:

“Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.”

image from Bloxels home page
image from Bloxels home page

 

The Teachers’ December Survival Kit (Redux)

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Osmo Coding

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.

gifts

Osmo first made the “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, the company has continued to push the envelope as it produces more interactive, educational games for children that combine physical pieces with the digital interface of an iPad.  Here is what I wrote about Osmo’s “Coding” game this summer:

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Clue Master

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.

gifts

My annual “Gifts for the Gifted” lists wouldn’t be complete without at least one game from ThinkFun.  This company is one of my favorite sources for entertaining educational games and my students always enjoy reviewing new ones as well as playing the classics.

Clue Master is one of ThinkFun’s newer products.  It’s a “logical deduction” game that is somewhat like Sudoku.  Although it is labeled as a single-player game, my students and I like to play in pairs, alternating puzzles.  Designed for ages 8 and up, it does one of the things that ThinkFun does best with games like this – scaffolding. The challenges slowly increase in difficulty so that anyone can work through them at their own pace without feeling bored or frustrated.

The game puzzles and solutions are contained in a sturdy book, and you will also find 9 magnetic tokens, a game grid, and instructions in the box.  Each challenge gives you a picture of the grid with some clues to the locations of each of the tokens.  The player’s job is to use the clues to deduce where all of the tokens should be placed.

The graphics have the pixelated look of Minecraft, which immediately draws the attention of young people.  Don’t be fooled, however.  Adults will have just as much fun trying to solve the challenges once they skip through the beginning puzzles.  Spatial reasoning is definitely a requirement in addition to logic, and many of us can use a bit more practice in both.

With these types of games, I’ve found that part of the appeal to my young partners is for them to see me struggle through it.  I also enjoy when they verbalize their thought processes and come to the realization that all of these can be solved through reasoning – not guess & check.  This is why I would recommend that, if you purchase Clue Master as a gift, you make plans to enjoy it with the recipient instead of expecting him or her to go off an play it alone.  Both of you will find the experience much more rewarding.

For more game recommendations, check out my Pinterest Board, which includes more products from ThinkFun as well as other great companies.

Clue Master from ThinkFun
Clue Master from ThinkFun

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Anaxi

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.

gifts

I found Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store when I was hunting for a gift for my 13-year-old daughter.  We both love word games, so Anaxi caught my eye with its, “Connecting Words in Surprising Ways” subtitle.

Anaxi is for 2-6 players, ages 8-99.  I could actually see it being played in the classroom, especially with my gifted students, with some minor rule adjustments (particularly the time limit).

In the box you will find a 1-minute-timer, instructions, and round, translucent cards in 3 different colors.  There are also 2 “base” cards to help you place the colored cards in the correct positions for each round of play.

A round consists of choosing a card of each color, placing them on the base card so they form a Venn diagram, and then trying to name as many people, places, or things that you can which connect overlapping cards.  After a minute is up (which I recommend changing to longer time periods if the players are elementary school age), you receive a point for each answer that connects 2 overlapping cards, and 4 points for the ones that connect all 3 cards – but you only receive points for unique answers.  If anyone else has the same answer, it is eliminated.  You can see a more detailed explanation in the video below.

Anaxi slightly reminds me of Apples to Apples as both games require the players to make connections, and there is opportunity for a lot of creativity.  There is also opportunity for a lot of arguing, which you might want to address before you begin a game.

Anaxi would be fun for a family game night – maybe giving adults a one-minute time limit and giving children 5 minutes to level the playing field.

You can find Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store
You can find Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store

Making Tough Choices

Decisions, decisions.  Some are certainly easier to make than others, as many people are discovering on this 2016 Election Day in the United States…

Kid President just released a timely video for the occasion.  Happily, it doesn’t just apply to election decisions. In fact, my 2nd graders have been discussing “Thinking Hats,” and “Making Tough Choices with Kid President,”  was the perfect supplement to a lesson on the importance of thinking about your thinking.  “Be thoughtful,” Kid President advises, after warning against impulsivity, doing nothing, and following along with everyone else.  Pretty sage advice from someone who isn’t even old enough to vote yet.

screen shot from, "Making Tough Choices with Kid President"
screen shot from, “Making Tough Choices with Kid President”

I will be adding this video to my “Inspirational Videos for Students” collection.  Here is a free printable of my Thanksgiving Thinking Hats Review if you are interested!

Also, if you haven’t seen the campaign projects from Joelle Trayers’ Kindergarten class, and need an election day smile, you must click on this link!

Oh, and by the way, looking for gift suggestions?  Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome is one of the many recommendations you will find on my “Gifts for the Gifted” page!