Category Archives: Games

Gifts for the Gifted – Circuit Playground Express

 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.

If you know a child interested in programming who is not quite ready for Raspberry Pi or Arduino, the Circuit Playground Express might be just the right gift.  Adafruit upgraded its original Circuit Playground, which could only be coded with the Arduino IDE, to make a much more versatile development board.  Plug this little guy into a USB port on any computer, and you can immediately use Microsoft’s Make Code website to program Circuit Playground Express with block coding or Javascript.  In fact, the website makes it easy for new programmers to switch back and forth between the two coding options.  Eager learners can then move on to the Circuit Python and the Arduino IDE.

The Make Code site allows users to simulate what will happen on the physical Circuit Playground Express.  Once satisfied, creators can download the program to the Circuit Playground, and remove it.  The Base Kit is a good buy, as it includes a battery pack with batteries, USB cord, and a container.   This makes the Circuit Playground Express a portable electronic device that doesn’t need soldering, breadboarding, or any kind of advanced electrical knowledge.

With lights, music, and multiple inputs, the Circuit Playground Express would be the next step up the ladder from the Makey Makey.   Suggested “makeable” products are listed on the Adafruit product pages for the Express, as well as on the Make Code website.  Because of it’s size and portability, the Circuit Playground Express also makes it a fun choice for wearable inventions.

UPDATE 12/3/18: Rob Merrill has published an e-book course for Circuit Playground Express with great ideas here.

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Circuit Playground Express

(It should be noted that several other beginner products can be programmed on Make Code – most notably the Microbit, which is used extensively in the UK.  I have not used it, so I can’t review it, but it has extensive coverage online with multiple projects and tutorials.)

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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

Dialogo

I’m hesitating to recommend any more games because it was recently brought to my attention that a card game I reviewed in January now costs $899 on Amazon.  I know I don’t have a degree in Economics, but I only paid $20 for it 6 months ago, and unless this game is somehow disguising a Bitcoin laundering scheme, I’m not sure why it climbed in price by 4500%.

The game in question, Mockups, is good for practicing Design Thinking.  If that is what you are looking for, you may want to go a less pricier route by checking out Disruptus, also good for Design Thinking practice – and about $874 less than Mockups at the moment.

Or, you could download Dialogo for free.  It’s not really a Design Thinking game, but at least you don’t have to pawn your motorcycle to acquire it.

I’m really working on community building with my classes this year, so when I saw this brief write-up about Dialogo on Trendhunter, I immediately searched for the website to learn more.

Dialogo is a product from the KAICIID Center.  According to its website, the organization “is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote the use of dialogue globally to prevent and resolve conflict to enhance understanding and cooperation.”  The free download is available in 5 different languages, and includes a printable gameboard, instructions, and cards.

Dialogo is meant to be used for encouraging discussion of a particular topic.  The game offers creative, probing questions that can be used for just about any subject. There are also suggestions for reflecting on and facilitating the conversation.  Though the age suggestion is for 10 and up, I think it could be used with younger students with a bit of practice.

So, download Dialogo now, whether you think you can use it or not, before it gets listed for $1000 or something ridiculous.  Good group conversations are priceless – and should stay that way.

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Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

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Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words

The Rubik’s Cube Revolution

I have a private magazine on Flipboard where I save all of the weird things that might make future Phun Phriday posts.  When I see a few that seem to fit a theme, I curate them for you.  They are not necessarily educational – just random stories that catch my eye.

It’s a mystery to me why the Rubik’s Cube continues to be a “thing.”  I didn’t like it when it first came out, and still find it frustrating.  I realize this is completely my own fault, and that my feelings say a lot more about my own stubborn laziness than the quality of the toy.  But that’s why I found it interesting to see that, decades after its initial introduction to the toy market, the Rubik’s Cube continues to fascinate people.

This guy, for example, has posted a tutorial on Instructables on how to make a fully functional Rubik’s Cube – out of paper.  I was intimidated by Step 1, so I can’t really advise you if this actually works, but it seems on the up and up.

Then there’s this man, who made a Rubik’s cube out of cheese.  This achievement should not be confused with his other Rubik’s cube accomplishments: the candle cube and the ice cube.

I doubt either of these men would be willing to loan their creations to this robot, who can solve a Rubik’s cube in .38 seconds.  (Watch the last video on this page, and you’ll see why they might be reluctant to trust their art to this robot.)

I think I’ll just stick to the virtual ones.

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image from William Warby on Flickr

Digital Breakout Tools

“Digital Breakouts” are similar to the physical game, where students use clues to try to open locks.  However, in a Digital Breakout, the students input the lock codes online, usually into a Google Form, rather than using tangible locks.  One of our NEISD Instructional Technology Specialists, Heather Miller (@SATechieTeacher) recently used this technique for a PD she presented to our staff, and inspired me to try to create a few of my own for my students.  This “Fibonacci Thief” DBO (I’m guessing it was designed by a Mrs. VanKirk in Milton SD based on the URL) is an example of a Digital Breakout that uses Google Forms embedded in a Google Site.

If you haven’t used Google Sites, don’t be intimidated.  You can actually make a simple Digital Breakout just using Google Forms and inserting some images.  This excellent video explains how to create “locked” Google Forms in a matter of minutes.

This page offers more video tutorials if you want to add some complexity to your Digital Breakout, such as embedding the form in a Google Site with pages for different clues.  It also includes a crowd-sourced document of resources for making fun images and clues.  Kari Augustine’s Breakout EDU Pinterest Board is another place that you can find ideas for generating interesting graphics and codes.  A couple that I found over the weekend that I plan to try are:

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As soon as I create a couple of my own Digital Breakouts worth sharing, I will post them to this blog!

Dinkee

My daughter (15) and I love to play word games.  A couple of years ago, she received a game called, “Linkee” for Christmas.  “Linkee” has cards that give four trivia questions.  After answering the four questions, players try to figure out what the answers all have in common.  When they figure it out, they shout, “Linkee!”  If they are right, they win the card, which has a letter on the back.  The first person to earn all of the letters that spell “Linkee,” wins.

We love the game (even though no one else will play with us).  However, a lot of the references are a bit too difficult for elementary aged kids.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there is another version of “Linkee” specifically designed for younger children.  “Dinkee” is for ages 8 and up.  If you want to get a sense of the game, you can visit this site, where there are sample cards as well as a free downloadable version.

I played “Dinkee” with my eighteen 2nd grade students yesterday, and they loved it.  They worked as tables to try to earn the cards, and it seemed the only regret was that we didn’t have time to finish the game.  I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of recommended games for kids.

If you question the value of a game like this in school, then you might want to read this article, which gives a pretty compelling argument about the benefits of making connections.

To challenge your own brain in a similar fashion, you can also try the “Kennections” puzzles by Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings.

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Dinkee is available on Amazon