Gifts for the Gifted – Genius Square

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) on 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, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

I am linking this product to Toyology, an independent toy store in Michigan, which has a few locations and an online store. Thanks to Kimberly M. for this tip!

This is the earliest I’ve ever begun this annual series of posts, but you know pandemic, supply shortage, blah blah blah… Plus, I’m switching to Mondays because I usually do my Anti-Racism posts on Fridays. Another new change (yes, I know I’m full of them today) is that I devised a bit of a rubric to use with the games/toys. I was always using a sort of mental rubric, and just decided this year to make it visible to everyone else!

I’m starting this year’s recommendations with a game called Genius Square. When I began looking for ideas a couple of months ago, I reached out on various social media channels, and several teachers mentioned that their students love this game. The game can be played by one or two people, and includes two grid boards, two sets of Tetris-like pieces, a set of wooden peg blockers, and a set of dice. You roll the dice to determine where the blockers should be placed, and then try to fit all of your colored pieces on the board around the blockers. With two people, you are racing against each other, but a one-person game is basically just a great way to practice your spatial skills.

If you recall, I wrote an article for NEO on spatial reasoning back in February, and I feel that this is an area that is often ignored in formal education though extremely useful in real life. (Try packing a carry-on suitcase with everything you need so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag on an airline, and you will see what I mean.) Genius Square is a fun way to work on developing this skill, and I love that it has the option of competition or solitary enjoyment. It’s also great because there are often (maybe always?) multiple solutions. And, with all of those dice and grid placement options, chances are you will rarely get the same challenge twice.

I did score the game a little bit lower in the durability area due to the multiple pieces. Parents and teachers know the frustration of lost parts on a daily basis. But it wouldn’t be that difficult to make your own replacements (especially if you have a 3d printer!). In fact, I saw some pics on Twitter of people who were using some pictures they had drawn and cut out due to that issue. I also want to thank Christine Dale (@DaleDaze) for her Tweet about the Mathigon virtual version of Genius Square that you can play.

The lower Extendability score is based on how directly this game could apply to curriculum or real-life. I mean, yes, we use spatial reasoning a lot, but no we don’t often have to pack an exact number of Tetris shapes into a grid. And, I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of strategy involved in the game as there is nothing you can do to keep your opponent from winning except to think faster.

Although the box says 6+ for the age, I think kids slightly younger could play, and I would even encourage it. I also think it’s great for people of different ages to play against each other, as it does not require reading, trivial knowledge, or counting. (You may need to place the blockers for younger children, though.)

I’ll be adding this to my Spatial Reasoning Wakelet. Also, if you are new here, you may want to check out some of my math Wakelets.

Got a toy/game/book suggestions for me to review? It’s not too late! Comment below or email me engagetheirminds@gmail.com

Vacation Vibes!

With most schools out, and many states opened up after a year of pandemic lockdown, I’ve been seeing a lot of pictures on social media of people enjoying vacations, especially outdoors. We were fortunate enough to visit Colorado in early May and spent some time in The Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park. After that break, I wrote about our fabulous visit to part makerspace/part game store, PlayForge, in Littleton, Colorado. While we were there, we purchased a couple of things, and one of them was National Parks Scrabble. My daughter and I are Scrabble fiends, and we were curious to see how this could converge with our adoration of National Parks. I did not expect how much we would enjoy the game! It includes cards that name different national parks (many that I had never heard of!) and a little bit about each one. The fun part is that you can use the cards to do previously prohibited actions in Scrabble, such as spell a word backwards or make any tile on your rack into a blank. It really makes the game far less predictable, and way more fun. If you are anywhere near Littleton, Colorado, head over to PlayForge and get this game. (Also, check out their Maker Camps!) If you are not near PlayForge, find an independent store near you to see if they carry it. As a last resort, you can get it online, but do your best to support an indie store if you can.

Think you know something about the United States National Parks? Try this quiz to see how much you really know!

While we’re talking about vacations, remember the Virtual Vacation website I mentioned back in March? I focused on the City Guesser game (btw, Esther Park has a free template you can use for this game — go to this link and look for the “Travel Around the World” template), but there are several other virtual vacation activities on there, including VidEarth, where you can click on a blue dot anywhere in the world and watch a video that was uploaded, and my personal favorite, Virtual Window, where you can get a “window” view of places.

For some ways to enjoy the great outdoors while learning, scroll down a bit on this page for the 4-Week Summer Camp Guide from Nature Lab. It includes hands-on activities for families. While you’re outside, encourage children to take amazing nature photos with these tips from National Geographic. Or, adapt some of these ideas from their Planet Possible Challenge.

No matter what you decide to do during vacation, don’t forget this wonderful message from Kid President way back in 2015!

Rocky Mountain National Park, May, 2021
mother helping her daughter use a laptop

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on code.org.

monopoly car piece

Get in the Game

The If/Then Collection is all about featuring women in STEM. If you teach or you’re a parent, I highly recommend doing a deep dive into all of the materials offered on this site, including profiles of female scientists in various fields like sports and entertainment, videos, posters, and toolkits. I saw the “Get in the Game” resources, and wanted to share them since I mentioned the Game Design Contest from Google Play yesterday. According to the site, “Get in the Game is an “unplugged” activity–exploring concept usually associated with programming and computer science without the use of a computer.  The Tech Interactive Museum in San Jose presents six activity videos featuring AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Dr. Siobahn Day Grady where students design their own board games and learn how Dr. Grady applies computational thinking skills as a computer scientist researching autonomous vehicles.” Although this activity focuses on designing a board game, it would be a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in the Google Play contest, or who are just looking for engaging activities during the next couple of months.

Interested in the idea of using Design Thinking in your classroom, but not quite sure how to do it? I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). You can find info on how to join us here.

blue and yellow board game
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
close up view of two people playing a video game

Be a Game Changer!

Do you have students (or children) who are 13-18 years of age, live in the United States or Canada (except Quebec, sorry!), and who have great ideas for video games? If so, they have until July 31, 2021, to enter Google Play’s “Change the Game” Design Contest. They do not have to know how to code in order to enter, as you can see from the online form. Judges will be looking at entries as they are submitted to select 100 people to participate in an online workshop where they will learn how to make real games, and receive a certificate and Chromebook if they complete the course. You can get more information and some guiding questions to inspire participants here.

And, don’t forget, I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). If you missed my blog post giving you the scoop on this event, you can read all about it here.

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Photo by Garrett Morrow on Pexels.com

Spintronics

Way back in 2017, I blogged about a new project I had backed on Kickstarter called Turing Tumble. The game is a mechanical version of a computer, and includes a book with stories and challenges that slowly scaffold the working parts of computers. My students and I liked it so much that I reviewed it on the blog and recommended for my Gifts for the Gifted list in 2018.

Paul Boswell, inventor of Turing Tumble, has a new venture on Kickstarter. The project is called Spintronics, and it is designed to help children (and adults) to learn how electronics work by building mechanical circuits. Like Turing Tumble, Spintronics includes a book of stories and challenges. Without having to risk hot soldering irons or engage in complicated mathematical equations, students can learn the basics and vocabulary of electronics as they build, experiment, and play.

I literally received the e-mail announcing the beginning of the Kickstarter today, and Spintronics is already fully funded – more than 5 times over! So, the good news is that you should be able to receive a kit if you back it. The downside is that you will need to wait until January, 2022, to start playing the game. However, as I learned with Turing Tumble, it is sure to be worth the wait!