3-12, Critical Thinking, Games, Math, Problem Solving

Puzzles and Games from Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, which held its first event in 2007, was named after a famous mathematician. Though the festival was partially sidelined due to Covid a couple of years ago, it continued with virtual events, and it looks like it has some upcoming activities. If you are unable to attend in person, though, you can still participate by playing one of the many online games, or even downloading one of the free, printable booklets. The games include some classics, like River Crossings, and Tower of Hanoi, but there are plenty of others that will likely be new to you and your students. One very helpful feature you will find is that the instructions to each game are on Google Slide presentations, with links to the online game, and an option for Spanish instructions.

I’ll be adding this link to two of my collections: Brainteasers and Puzzles and Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep. Got advanced learners? This would be great for them! Early finishers? Students with math anxiety who need to see it can be fun? A little extra time at the end of class or a much-needed break from test prep? These are all good occasions to check out the JRMF site!

Critical Thinking, Games, K-12, Language Arts


Yesterday, I landed on the goldmine of Wordle blog posts. I thought I had collected most of the Wordle variations, and then I read this post by Jacob Cohen. After adding most of the links in his post, I ended up with 54 Wordle-type games in my Wakelet collection (I think I had something like 36 before). There are sudoku and crossword versions, a Morse code version, and several that I think will make my brain explode if I try them. Since my blog audience is mostly teachers, I was conscious as I added each link of whether or not it might be good for the classroom. Most of them definitely appeal to very niche audiences, but when I saw Spellie I realized I needed to spread the word.

Spellie is designed for children, or perhaps people trying to learn the English language. It has three modes: easy, medium, hard. According to the rule page, “The easy puzzle uses short words within the Grade 2 vocabulary. The hard mode is challenging, but uses words within the Grade 5 vocabulary.” Easy mode has 4 letter words, while the other two have 5.

I will admit right now that I was completely humiliated by the easy mode. And, trust me, it was not a difficult word.

Terri is no good at Spellie

In my defense, I had gotten sidetracked by another game Cohen suggested (that I’ll be blogging about tomorrow), and my brain seemed to have difficulty changing modes.

Back to Spellie, you can collect little emojis as you guess words, which is a fun bonus.

As a reminder, for those of you wanting to bring Wordle into the classroom, don’t forget there is a Flippity version where you can customize your list with your own words. You can also customize Spello with your own lists, and it will read a word out loud, so students can try to guess the correct spelling.

You can find all of these and more on my Wordle Variations Wakelet. Want to get updates and see my other public collections? Visit this page.

Books, Critical Thinking, K-12, Student Response

The Story Routine: Main–Side–Hidden

Last month I had the honor of working with our local NEISD librarians during a PD on one of the newer Visible Thinking Routines, “The Story Routine: Main–Side–Hidden.” Visible Thinking Routines appear frequently on my blog because I really believe in the way they help teachers to facilitate rich discussions among their students. These routines, compiled by Harvard’s Project Zero research team, are detailed in two books (see image links) and on several websites, including this one.

“The Story Routine” appears in the most recent book, The Power of Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchart and Mark Church. The purpose of the routine is to analyze events, photos, stories, documents, etc… by constructing a story beyond the obvious. The routine can be applied to fiction, non-fiction, data in math, primary sources in history, and many other situations. There is even an example in the book where a counselor uses the routine with a young boy who is having trouble at home.

“The Story Routine” may have different prompts depending on the context. Some examples are:

  • “What is the main message of this story?” (What does the author want you to think?)
  • “What is a side message of this story?” (Maybe something not as important, but still something the author wants to get across)
  • “What is a hidden theme in this story?” (Maybe something that contributes to the theme but is never actually mentioned)
  • “What is the main message of this graph?” (What information does the graph give you?”)
  • “What is a side message of this graph?” (Maybe how does this graph fit into a larger context?”)
  • “What is a hidden message in this graph? (Maybe what are some unspoken contributing factors that could have skewed or contributed to the graph’s meaning?)

There are endless possibilities, and you can adapt it to different ages, abilities, and topics. The point is that you want students to make inferences, look at things from other perspectives, and apply a systems thinking outlook that acknowledges that nothing exists in a vacuum. Peer discussions are critical and it is also essential to accept multiple answers as long as students can support them. For those of you who use Socratic Dialogues in your classrooms, this routine would work very well. Otherwise, whole class and small group conversations can be used.

I made a few different digital templates for the PD that I did, and I thought I would share one with you here. You could certainly use it for other things besides this Visible Thinking Routine, but I designed it as a Google Slides presentation that could be used in groups in your classroom and then presented to the whole class with the fun interactivity of using a magnifying glass at the end to display the “hidden” message.

It’s impossible to explain the routine in depth in a short blog post, so I encourage you to read the unit in the book. If that isn’t feasible, Alice Vigors does a good job of offering examples here, and, of course I’d be happy to do a PD for your district or group on it;) I’ve also started a new Wakelet collection where you can find my other Visible Thinking blog posts, many of which have downloadable templates.

Critical Thinking, Games, Geography, Math

“World” le, Confirmation Bias, and Combinatorics

Yes, you read that correctly and no, it’s not a spelling error. Jumping on the Wordle bandwagon, we now have a geography quiz called “Worldle.” Like its inspiration, it is a daily quiz that gives you six guesses. In this case, however, you are trying to identify a country or territory, the outline of which appears at the top. Your guesses are rated on “the distance, the direction and the proximity from your guess and the target country.” It looks like my average number of guesses needed will be 4, equivalent to my skill at the game that started this all.

Speaking of the original Wordle, there have been lots of comments bandied about on social media that the word list was changed when the New York Times bought the game. I was surprised to see this speculation was correct — well, sort of. People were suspecting the New York Times was trying to make the quiz more “bougie” or “elitist” with more difficult words, but apparently NYT didn’t add any words to the list. According to this hard-hitting, get-to-the-bottom-of-things report from People, they actually removed some words that they thought were too obscure or offensive (the latter was reported by the BBC). If you’ve played the game today (#247), then you will probably agree that the word was neither bougie or offensive. In a response to the flying rumors, @mjshally wrote an interesting thread on Twitter about this being a good example of confirmation bias. If you teach grades 6-12, the Wordle Word Wars could be a gateway to this lesson on confirmation bias from Newseum Ed.

Just in case you missed it, Donna Lasher has lessons for grades K-2 and 3-6 on combinations and permutations that are fabulous tie-ins to games like Wordle and everyday uses like passwords and license plates. I’ve added the link to her lesson, the Worldle link, and an Octordle link to my Wordle Variations collection here. And don’t forget you can follow all of my collections here.

BTW: Tomorrow is Twos Day! If you aren’t prepared, here are some ideas!

3-12, Critical Thinking, Games

Keep The Challenges Coming!

Ahh, I remember this time of year in the classroom so well, when the semester is nearing its close — and panic begins to set in. Those students you tried so hard to set a fire under earlier who seemed to think they had all of the time in the world (my daughter’s coach used the term, “no sense of urgency” for those who seemed delightfully unconcerned about the passage of time) are slowly beginning to realize they might have slightly underestimated how much time those assignments would take, or how much help they might need from you. And then there are those who finished everything almost before you even finished describing the task, and they are looking at you expectantly for the next challenge. These are the moments that test a teacher’s multi-tasking abilities to the max, and it is oh so tempting to tap your magical heels together and wish yourself anywhere else but standing in front of a room full of students who desperately want a million different things all at exactly the same time.

It’s tempting to show a video (sure, I’ve done it, everyone has those days) or tell the got-it-done-on-timers they can read a book or play on their phones while you help the ones who need to catch up. But, despite the cheers you might get for unrestrained phone time or another screening of Monsters, Inc., most students really do want to learn when they are at school. Independent research projects and Genius Hour are certainly options, but those need planning and possibly more guidance than you have the bandwidth to offer at the moment. That’s when puzzles and brainteasers can be helpful. And I just happen to have a collection of those for you right here.

From math stumpers to Ted Ed riddles and rebus puzzles to lateral thinking teasers, you can choose some challenges that are just right for your students from this Wakelet of Brainteasers and Riddles. There is even a link to site to make your own puzzles for those of you with older students who might want to create some for their peers. Encourage your students to take some time to exercise their brains in a different way, and even invite them to try to stump you.

Every day, I collect and organize more resources to help you engage students. See all of my Wakelet collections here, and feel free to comment on this post if you have a suggestion for a link that I should add.

MC Hammer
Critical Thinking, history, K-12, Random Thoughts, Research

Jon Stewart, M.C. Hammer, and Data

I spend a lot of time curating random things that interest me (see my NEO post on my curation methods here) , and I sometimes find obscure connections that inspire me to group them together into a blog post. As I was browsing my “Blog Ideas” Wakelet after my morning dog walk, I rediscovered a couple of resources I’d saved that correlated quite well with the podcast I’d just been listening to, Smartless. First, I’ll share a screen shot of this tweet from @AlvinFoo:

Next up, I have the updated Interactive Media Bias Chart, which has also been included in my Wakelet for “Evaluating Online Information.” (My daughter had originally shown me this site when she was taking a Journalism class last year, and I found it fascinating.) Whether you agree with its findings or not, it’s definitely worth discussing with older students when talking about current events and/or the reliability of news sources.

And, lastly, I have a quote from Jon Stewart that he attributes to M.C. Hammer (beware an expletive near the beginning) — and it is something we should never forget when looking at any data, including standardized test scores in education (click here if the embedded audio does not appear below):

There is nothing quite so satisfying as finding a way to tie together so many seemingly disparate topics in one post, so I consider my work done for today 😉