Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Gifts for the Gifted 2018 – Laser Chess

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.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

No gift list is ever complete without one or two suggestions from ThinkFun!  If you search my blog for “ThinkFun” you will see that I have done many reviews of their games.  Periodically, ThinkFun sends me free games to review, but the only ones that appear on this blog are the ones I really, really like!

Laser Chess is a two-player game recommended for ages 8 and up.  If someone teaches them the game, precocious 5 year olds can probably play – though they may be more interested in enticing their cats to chase after the laser beams.  Knowledge of chess is not a prerequisite.  (For a good game to teach chess moves to beginners, I recommend Tic-Tac-Chec or Solitaire Chess.) Although Laser Chess does require similar strategic thinking as chess, the King is the only piece that they have in common.

Players can choose from a variety of game board set-ups in the instruction booklet to begin.  The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s King by directing the laser beam to it.  Each person has several pieces that have mirrors on them as well as some that don’t (to block the laser).  Pieces “struck” by the laser are eliminated.

For a more detailed description of Laser Chess game play, I recommend this blog post.  The only suggestion that I would add is to let the recipient play with the pieces for awhile before playing a formal game.  If you give him or her the opportunity to explore how the laser reflecting works, more time can be spent on strategy during the game.

Oh, and by the way – batteries are included!

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Laser Chess from ThinkFun

Gifts for the Gifted 2018 – Turing Tumble

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.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For yesterday’s suggestion, click here.

While yesterday’s gift suggestion could conceivably be used with anyone over 4 years old – and with groups of 2 to whatever – today’s game is a bit more limited.  Turing Tumble is a game I originally backed on Kickstarter, and was excited to finally receive this past summer.  You definitely don’t want to buy it for any child who is still in the “I-see-it-so-I-can-eat-it” phase due to the many small parts.  It’s also not very practical to use with large groups.  You can read my full review here. (It appears that it is currently unavailable on Amazon, but the Turing Tumble website has it in stock.)

So, who should receive Turing Tumble for a gift?  Children and adults who are interested in machines and logical challenges would be the most likely to enjoy Turing Tumble.  I personally think that it is best played with a few family members taking turns with the challenges.  My experience with similar games that could potentially be played alone is that children often give up too quickly.  They need adults to model the perseverance and problem-solving needed – and to cheer them on when they succeed.  Quite frankly, it’s kind of fun for the adults to get some encouragement, too 😉

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image of Paul and Alyssa Boswell with their invention, from Turing Tumble Press Kit

Peer Feedback

I have students in various grade levels working on design projects this year, and it only seemed right that they would give each other feedback.  The 4th and 5th graders were working on designing video games, and the 8th-12th grade engineering students were more than happy to play the games and critique them.  My two periods of engineering students are designing a playground for the 4/5 students, so it seemed only fair that the younger students give the older ones input on something that would ultimately impact them.  Finally, I had the engineering students give feedback to their contemporaries (in opposite classes).

In the past I’ve used graphic organizers like, “Two Stars and a Wish,”  or Glows and Grows, or deBono’s Thinking Hats.  The most success I’ve had is using Thinking Hats, but even then the feedback is often vague.

Sonya Terborg recently did a post on a tool called, “The Ladder of Feedback,”  and I decided to try it with my older students.  It has been, by far, the most successful peer feedback tool that I have seen in the classroom.  The steps on the ladder help students to consider a project more deeply, and the sentence stems were perfect prompts for the students to consider at each stage.

Sonya also mentions some other resources in her post, including a Mind/Shift post that has practical suggestions on how to guide your students through the process of crafting meaningful feedback.

If you ever wondered the age that students need to be in order to give constructive feedback to each other, Austin’s Butterfly will show you how even young children, once they have had some practice, can positively influence the outcome of a peer’s project.

One piece of advice from this article on TeachThought  that I intend to use the next time we do peer reviews is to give feedback on the feedback.  This may also encourage the students to be thoughtful on future critiques – a valuable skill in a school that focuses on Project Based Learning.

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CC image from Pixabay

IDEO Lifeline Cards

If you really want to take your feedback, reflections, critiques, etc… to a whole new level, you should consider using these IDEO Lifeline Cards.  I haven’t used them with my students yet, but just asking myself the questions made me think about my own work differently.  The cards are free (and quite beautiful), so download them while you can.  Even if the questions are a bit too high level for your particular student age group, applying them to your own life is an intriguing exercise and may give you some insight you have never considered.

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Makey Makey Exit Ticket/Data Tracker

Colleen Graves (@gravescolleen) shared some pictures on Twitter a few days ago that showed prototypes she was making of a library data tracker and a classroom exit ticket tracker.  Both use the Makey Makey along with some minimal Scratch programming.  I begged for some more details, and she has released the instructions here. (That sentence makes it sound like she only published the directions because I asked, but I’m pretty sure the two events just happened in chronological order because Colleen planned it that way – not because I have the power to demand anyone to explain things in detail just so I can copy their ideas.)

Colleen, by the way, is now the Content Creator/Director of Community and Creative Content at Makey Makey.  She has already authored a few books, one of which is 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius.  For one of my posts that curated links of creative ways to use the Makey Makey, click here.  You also might enjoy this one about interactive onomatopeia.

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image from Alan Levine on Flickr

 

Turing Tumble Review

I think I’ve finally come to terms with my Kickstarter addiction.  Basically, I choose an item to “back”, and wait until that product arrives on my doorstep before I find something else to invest in.  Most of the items I fund take around a year to get manufactured, so this seems to be a compromise that my bank account can handle.

Last summer, I wrote about my latest Kickstarter purchase, the Turing Tumble. I expected to receive it in January, but a few obstacles were encountered during production that delayed it to the summer.  Sadly, this meant that only the few students that attended my robot camp got a chance to test it out, but I think I got a pretty good idea of its impact from them and my 15 year old daughter.

Paul and Alyssa Boswell, who invented this unique game, kept their Kickstarter backers very well-informed during the production process.  Packaging is a huge part of getting products like this into the hands of consumers, and there were a lot of bumps along the way.  However, I think they got it right in the end.  Turing Tumble arrived in a substantial box that has a customized insert for all of the pieces.  It will definitely make it easy to store.

Speaking of pieces, there are a lot, including tiny red and blue marbles that are “tumbled” in the games.  The quantity of small pieces is a definite reason you should not ignore the age rating of 8 to Adult.    I would caution anyone with young children or pets (like mine) who are living vacuum cleaners to set up this game in an area where accidental flying marbles won’t be immediately ingested .

The Turing Tumble is basically a mechanical computer.  The different pieces represent what happens in a computer when a program runs.  The set comes with a puzzle book that is written in the form of a graphic novel.  Players are given 60 different objectives (challenges) throughout the story to complete using the pieces.  (You can see an excellent description of the game, along with pics and video, on their Kickstarter page.)

A few of my students, ages 8-10, got to try out the game.  Despite the beautiful images by Jiaoyang Li that accompany the story in the puzzle book, the students skipped straight to the challenges.  Once they understood the basic structure of the book (each challenge has an objective, a picture of the starting setup, and the available parts you should add), they began to cruise through the scaffolded puzzles.  A small crowd gathered around whenever they “started a program” by pressing the lever to release the first marble, and everyone watched in fascination as red and blue marbles fell in patterns determined by the placement of pieces.

My daughter was equally interested in the game.  We sat at the dining room table working our way through the puzzles, and I ended up being the gatherer of pieces as she mentally visualized where to place them in order to accomplish each new objective.  I was the one who finally stopped that night – mainly because I was feeling a bit grumpy about her solving the puzzles much more quickly than I ever could.

The good news is that anyone can now buy the Turing Tumble – and you don’t have to wait a year to receive it.  It is available directly through their website, from Amazon, or Gameology (for New Zealanders and Australians).

Turing Tumble also has an education portion on their website, which includes a practice guide.  You can submit your email address if you want to hear from the company when they release their Educator Guide.

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image of Paul and Alyssa Boswell with their invention, from Turing Tumble Press Kit

Reflecting with Hexagons

I think that the deepest discussions I ever hear in my classroom happen when we do Hexagonal Thinking.  If you haven’t heard of this strategy, I explain how I use it with my 4th graders in this blog post.  Last year, I did a post on using Hexagonal Thinking to reflect on the school year.  In the past, my 3rd-5th graders have used Hexagonal Thinking.  This year, on a whim, I decided to try it with my 2nd graders.

My 2nd graders have never done an activity like this before.  It was our last day of class together, and I wanted to help them sum up the things they have learned in our Gifted and Talented class this year.  Because they were new to Hexagonal Thinking, I conducted the activity in a slightly different way.

First, I went to this awesome Hexagon Generator, and asked the class to help me brainstorm words that represented things they have learned in GT.  Here is what they came up with:

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I did this right before their recess time, so I could make some quick copies for everyone while they played.

When we got back to the classroom, I paired up the students and gave them the paper.  Now this is where I really departed from my traditional lesson.  Instead of asking them to cut up the hexagons and place them where they wanted on a new sheet of paper, I asked them to make connections between words that were already sharing sides.  We went over a couple of examples so they could understand that I didn’t want them to say things that used the words in the explanation, (such as creativity goes with problem solving because you need to be creative to problem solve) but to think about the qualities that each word shared.

You know how you sometimes come up with an idea right before class and you start executing the idea and realize about 3/4 of the way through explaining it that it was the dumbest idea ever and now you need to figure out how to get through the next 45-minutes without anyone crying – including you?

That’s how I felt as I started monitoring the partner discussions.  Expecting 2nd graders to “go deep” on the last day of class was not a brilliant decision on my part.  There were comments like, “Well, bridges goes with stability because they need to stay up or they will fall down.”  True, but not what I was going for.

And then something kind of magical happened.  I heard partners saying, “No, no, that’s not what she wants.”  And I started reading some of their notes.  And I realized that these kids can think deeper than I can when given the opportunity.

A few of their comments:

  • Stability and Support – “You have to be strong and stand up for your friends.”
  • Creativity and Perspective – “You have to think the way others think to make them happy.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “They both don’t give up trying to survive.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “Sometimes you need to change to work together.”
  • Ethics and Perspectives – “When you don’t look at different points of view, sometimes you get in a fight.”

You can see the working drafts one pair used below.

The great thing about this activity was hearing the students use the vocabulary, like “ethics” and “perspectives” correctly, and being able to tell from their comments if they really understood these topics.

If you still have some time with your students before closing out the year, I definitely recommend this activity!

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