As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.” You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages. My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up. We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school. I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time. Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.
I was at a dollar store this weekend, and saw a plethora of pool noodles.
It reminded me of this post I did a few years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect time for a repeat!
After coming across one article on ways to use pool noodles, I did an internet search, and found a lot more creative ideas than I dreamed could exist for using these long pieces of foam!
My students use every spare moment they can get in my classroom to build elaborate marble runs, so the above picture caught my eye immediately. You can find it, along with 19 other ideas for pool noodles here.
You can find the idea for pool noodle flash cards here. To kick it up a notch for gifted thinkers, why not call out a word in a foreign language, or a definition, and have them find the noodle pieces that spell its counterpart?
Along with the Pool Noodle Super Sprinkler, you can find 29 other ideas here.
Of course, with all of these innovative suggestions I did not find any that matched the one drawn by one of my students!
When my Kinder GT class learns about “Scientist Thinking” and classification, I like to use a PBS Cyberchase Game called, “Logic Zoo,” which helps them to understand Venn Diagrams. You can find that game, and other fun math problem solving interactives for elementary and middle school students on this page. (You need Flash to play these games, so they probably don’t work on mobile devices.) In addition to “Logic Zoo,” I love, “Pour to Score,” and, “Cyberchase Squares.”
The games are many different levels, so make sure you test them out before assigning them to your students!
Eric Berlin, author of the Puzzling World of Winston Breen series, has a site called, “Puzzle Your Kids.” The site includes a page where you can download the puzzles from each of his three Winston Breen books, as well as a store page where you can purchase some of his puzzles. A real deal for teachers and parents is the subscription to his puzzle newsletter. For free, you can get a new puzzle in your in-box each Friday. Or, for the $5/month subscription, you can get that plus bonus puzzles. The puzzles are designed for 8 years and up – though some students will need more guidance than others. I got my first puzzle last Friday, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students!
It has been about 4 years since I first wrote about Spaceteam, and there have been a few changes since then. The app is now available on both Google Play and iOS, and there can now be up to 8 people involved in a single game. What hasn’t changed is that it is still fun!
When you play Spaceteam, everyone playing must be on the same wi-fi network. Once all of the players get past the “Waiting Room” in the app, each person gets a different dashboard with gadgets that usually have gibberish labels. In order to get to the next level, instructions must be followed. However, the instructions on your screen are usually for other players – so you must call them out. This means you will be shouting out ridiculous sounding directions such as, “Turn off the novacrit!” with the hope that the player who has a “novacrit” will hear you and turn it off. Not all of the commands are gibberish, however. It’s funny listening to someone impatiently yelling, “Darn the socks! Someone needs to darn the socks!”
Due to the unusual vocabulary, this game is best suited for 4th grade and up. The app has a 9+ rating, but I have not seen anything inappropriate pop up on the screens. The biggest danger seems to be that people might inadvertently pronounce something incorrectly.
Why play this app in your classroom? Well, it’s a great brain break. It’s also fun for team building. In addition, it can be the introduction to a great conversation about listening. One of the things my students learned was that, when you expect to hear one thing and someone says something else, you may miss it. (This happens a lot in Spaceteam due to differences in perceived word pronunciations.) They also learned that little can be accomplished when a lot of people are yelling, and that communication is definitely more difficult in high-pressure situations.
Spaceteam also has a Spaceteam ESL app designed specifically to help English language learners work on vocabulary. Again, there is a lot of shouting involved, but it beats memorizing word lists.
For many of us, the end of the school year is drawing near. If you are looking for novel ways to keep student interest, you may want to try Spaceteam.
Snotes allows you to make short hidden messages. The only way to read them is to turn them certain ways – both horizontally and vertically – which can be done physically or digitally. There is a Snotes app (for both iOS and Android), which allows you to digitally send Snotes secret messages, and there is a Snotes Quotes app, which is a trivia game.
After trying out Snotes, you can register for a free account, which will allow you to make more Snotes. Or, you can pay $1.99 for a bunch of extra features like an “expanded secret decoder.” Not really sure what that means, but it might be worth two bucks to find out.
It’s quite possible that I typed “snots” instead of “Snotes” somewhere in this blog post, although SpellCheck seems to have found enough “Snotes” to make that unlikely.
There are some other great clue suggestions on Chuck Taft’s site that you might want to check out. You could use them outside the classroom, too. My daughter hasn’t had a Christmas or Easter, yet, when she hasn’t had to solve puzzles to find at least some of her treasure… (She’ll probably get her revenge on me when I die by encoding an evil message on my tombstone.)
*Unfortunately, the website may be blocked in your district, but you can always create Snotes at home to use for school, or use the app.
My students, especially my 4th and 5th graders, love math challenges. If I can, I find ones that don’t show the answer so we can all try to figure them out. I think it’s good for the students to see me struggling (and I really do!), and how I handle frustration over particularly devilish problems. Last week, my 5th graders and I spent a good 30 minutes on this “easy” problem on Steve Miller’s Math Riddles page. (Technically, they had an excuse since they hadn’t exactly learned the math skill needed to solve the problem – yet.)
If you are looking for some unique math problems that will feel more like brainteasers than standardized test practice, here are some sites that I haven’t mentioned before:
With more and more articles coming out every day about the importance of modeling a good attitude toward math (like this one and this one), it seems kind of as simple as 1+1=2 to come to the conclusion that the people who have fun doing math will be more inclined to do it more often.
UPDATE 4/26/17 – I can’t believe I forgot to include this one: Estimation 180. So, there’s a bonus for you!