Games, Problem Solving

Woohoo for the Wordle Wakelet!

I’ve been watching the “Wordle” craze for a few weeks, and observing its slow creep into the classrooms. For those of you who have been lucky enough to escape this addiction in the form of a game invented by Josh Wardle (I confess that I am a Wordle fanatic, so there is a small amount of sarcasm in my choice of words), here is an explanation of the colored squares you may have observed showing up on social media streams. And no, we are not talking about word clouds, which were all the rage a decade ago!

As I was collecting resources and preparing for today’s post, I was also attempting to make my own lame version of a customizable Wordle game using conditional formatting in a spreadsheet so I could share it with teachers. Fortunately, I only wasted about 10,000 hours on that (but man, I now know a lot about conditional formatting) before I ran across this brilliant suggestion in a Twitter thread, My Wordle Me. This may be one of the best ways to go if you are using it with kids. As some of us know, there was a Wordle answer last week that was not inappropriate if you use it in the right context (think something painful you might do to your thumb with a needle), but highly amusing to middle schoolers who are always good at jumping to the exactly wrong context. There was a very fun Twitter thread of teachers who had that entertaining experience…

So, I had that link to share, and then came across a math one that I know my gifted students would have loved, called Oodle. Great! Now I had two fabulous links to give readers!

And then I got an email from a community I belong to for TCEA, and was blown away by the amount of Wordle variations out there! I want to thank Lori Gracey (@lgracey) for sharing those, but I couldn’t find a way to link to it, so I decided to make a Wakelet. In addition Lori Gracey shared a Twitter post from Tony Vincent (@TonyVincent) from Learning in Hand, who also shared some that were new to me. His post even includes a link to one where you can play against someone at the same time.

So, why play Wordle in the classroom? Well, as you know I think it’s great to borrow game ideas to shake things up in the classroom. And, of course, with the customizable version you can directly target vocabulary from your curriculum. Another big benefit is the logic and problem solving skills students need to use, and trying to improve on their own performance from the previous attempts. But one indirect advantage is that it helps you to challenge your assumptions. Sometimes I won’t guess a word because I think it’s too slangy or could be misconstrued (like the aforementioned answer that set middle schoolers giggling around the world). So I’m trying to get over that. The other assumption you might make which can also be a stumbling block is that once you get a letter correct, you tend to forget that it can still be in other places in the word — so you mentally eliminate it from the other spaces. It reminds me of a post I did almost 6 years ago about a TedEd video where people who need to solve a math pattern have a terrible time because they nearly all make the same assumption and can’t get past it.

Another interesting logic activity to do with Wordle is to start from the answer and work backward to see if you can figure out the other words someone guessed!

Also, if you want to get deep with students philosophically, there is the interesting social contract that seems to be observed by a huge portion of Wordle players that “what happens in today’s Wordle stays in today’s Wordle.” Most, though not all, are careful about not revealing the answer and ruining the fun for people who have yet to play that day’s game.

All of this is to say that I made a Wakelet of Wordles (versions of Wordle games), which will be a stand-alone collection, but I will also be adding a link to it in my Brainteasers and Puzzles Wakelet. Don’t forget that you can follow all of my Wakelets here.

Also, just a reminder to sign up to receive notification about when my new courses for credit come online. The first one, “An Introduction to Genius Hour,” will be free for a limited time!

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Anti-Racism, Games, K-5

Puzzle Huddle

I really needed a smile today, so I was happy to see the images on the Puzzle Huddle website when I clicked on the bookmark I had saved a few weeks ago. Even more delightful was watching the video in which Matthew Goins, who co-created the Puzzle Huddle company with his wife, Marnel, explains the path that led them to making these adorable puzzles. Although it’s sad that there is a need for more diverse puzzles, I admire that this couple is working to change that. “In my case, I got started because I wanted to make a difference for my three small children, so that now, hopefully, a few years and a lot of puzzles later, we will have made a difference for an entire generation of children.”

If I was still in the elementary classroom, I would absolutely want one or more of these in my room. The illustrations are fabulous, portray young people in inspiring situations, and allow children of color to see themselves in a fun medium that is often limited to white people. You can order from Puzzle Huddle (be sure to check out the Ada Twist series!), but you can also download some free coloring sheets. The company is also looking for Brand Ambassadors if you are interested.

Since I haven’t tried one of their puzzles yet, I can’t include Puzzle Huddle in my Gifts for the Gifted series, but I am going to add it to my Pinterest of recommended Games and Toys. I will also be adding this to my Anti-Racism Wakelet.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com
Games, K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Notable Mentions

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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

There were quite a few products I bookmarked this year that I have not had a chance to review. There’s no reason to keep them a secret; I just don’t want you to be under the impression that I’ve tried them and I am recommending them. In the interest of giving you enough time to purchase them if you do intend to receive them by the 25th, I thought I would share that list with you. Here you go:

  • Storytime Chess – A 2021 People’s Choice Toy of the Year Award Winner, this one is pricey, but seems to have a lot of great reviews. It’s currently on sale on their website ($49.99)
  • Mason’s Planets Handmade Sidewalk Chalk, A Benefit for Autism Research – $42 may seem like a lot for sidewalk chalk, but the pieces are gorgeous and I love that $2 from every sale goes to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Autism Research.
  • Parchie Watch – These $50 analog watches are designed for kids 6+, and can be worn while swimming. Order by Dec. 12 to get it by the 24th.
  • Van Gogh Masking Tape – These are sadly out-of-stock, but something you may want to keep in mind for future gifts. Browse the Kawaii Pen Shop site for all kinds of adorable washi tapes, pens, and other accessories.
  • One in a Chameleon – This is a visual/spatial puzzle for ages 8+ that can be played as a solitaire game or in small groups. Only $14.99.
  • The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition – I actually bought the “Friends” edition for my college-age daughter. These books have scratch-off challenges that you can do, and leave space to put pictures of you completing the challenge. Perfect if you have an Instax or similar camera or photo printer. (You can also bundle in a camera with your order if you want.) The Family Edition is ideally for families of 4-8 members with kids in the 4-15 age range. $44.99
  • Parks Board Game – I wouldn’t want this in the classroom because it probably takes awhile to play and has lots of pieces. It looks like a great game for a family that loves board games and the outdoors. With beautifully illustrated cards and sustainable wooden pieces, I can see that it would be a joy to play, and apparently many critics agree as it has won quite a few awards. At $49.00, it’s an investment but has potential for endless hours of fun.

If you happen to have any of the above, I would love to hear what you think of it. Either email me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com or comment below!

3-12, Games

Gifts for the Gifted – Brain Connect

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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Remember those plastic sliding puzzles you would get as party favors or in cereal boxes or for wedding gifts back in the old days?

Just me?

Okay. They looked like this.

Adobe Stock Image

And you had to slide the tiles to get the numbers in order. Or maybe they had a picture that was all mixed up and you were supposed put the picture back together by, again, sliding the tiles.

Or, you could just pop out the tiles like I did and press them back in…

Just me again?

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog that spatial activities never came very easily to me, so it’s probably not a surprise that I didn’t really like those puzzles. But I’m all for cultivating a growth mindset and challenging myself now that I’m older. So, I went ahead and ordered Brain Connect even though it wasn’t in my preferred game category (word games). I thought, and I was right, that it would tick some of the boxes on my Gifts for the Gifted criteria list.

First of all, Brain Connect is definitely not your mother’s or grandmother’s sliding puzzle. There are four puzzle boards included in the game, and each one has small tabs beside each row and column. The tabs are kind of like off and on switches. You keep them so that the red color shows except for the places where your path should join. Those you make green. So, you’re basically trying to connect the green squares by sliding the tiles in the middle to make a continuous path.

There are two recommended play variations in the set. The first one is to exchange a board with another person, have them randomly switch two tabs to green, give it back to the original player, and race to see who finishes first. The second is to use the cards in the box by flipping one over and having all players slide the same two tabs over so that they are racing to complete the same challenge. Of course, it won’t be exactly the same since their tiles will probably have begun in different places and there are potentially several answers for some of the challenges. You earn cards based on the place you achieve (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) each time. To win a multi-player game, collect 10 cards first.

You could also play the game solo if you happen to like that kind of entertainment.

Brain Connect is a good game to put in a classroom center, or to give your kids in the back seat of the car. Parents can play against children fairly, and you can give harder cards (the ones with wheels on them) to make it a bit more difficult for spatially gifted players. Durability-wise, it’s fairly easy to carry 4 boards around (maybe not the cards) without losing them. It would be nice if there was a bag, though, since the box takes up more space. The boards seem pretty impervious to normal mistreatment, like dropping them accidentally. But I wouldn’t rule out young hooligans like me who are tempted to pull the tiles out instead of sliding them.

Brain Connect is made by Blue Orange Games. As I am trying to support independent toy stores this year, here is a link so you can purchase Brain Connect from Kidding Around in NYC. However, you have some other options with Blue Orange. Go to their Shop page, and you can try to locate a store near you, or buy the game through their Shopatron page and “your order is automatically offered to local stores in your area that participate in the program.”

3-12, Creative Thinking, Games, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Asymbol

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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

When I first ran across this game, I vacillated about whether or not to include it because you can only purchase it, as far as I know, through one of the company’s independent consultants or from their website. But I kept going back to the page I bookmarked and thinking that Asymbol really is exactly the kind of game I would want in my classroom or for my family to play.

Asymbol comes from a company called, “Simply Fun.” Founded in 2008, Simply Fun is dedicated to creating quality educational games. Asymbol has already won several awards, including the “Creative Play of the Year Award for 2021” from Creative Child.

Image from Simply Fun

As with last week’s Gift for the Gifted, Just One, the concept of Asymbol is fairly simple. There are 47 quality wood game pieces that are spread in the middle of 3-6 players. Each player gets a “Pass Token” that can be used once during the game if they don’t want to assemble one of the words on the card they draw. Cards are shuffled, and players take turns picking a card, choosing a word or phrase from the card, and using whatever wooden pieces they want to try to assemble something that will help the others guess the secret word or phrase. A scorepad is provided, and the correct guesser and the assembler get points. If no one guesses correctly, the assembler can choose to end their turn. (Their is no time limit.) Play is continued for the number of rounds determined before the beginning of the game.

This game champions spatial reasoning and creativity, both of which are hugely important. If you’ve ever had students try to use a digital program like Tinkercad to design 3D figures, you can see how playing this game can be helpful. It’s similar to Pictionary, but has the constraint of only allowing you to use the shapes provided.

Though the game is for ages 8 and up, I think any child who can read could easily play this. One thing that is nice about Simply Fun is that there are individual tabs on the product page to inform educators and parents of the educational skills targeted by the game, and even how the game may or may not work for autistic children. (For example, autistic children who are sensitive about keeping things in a particular order or sequence might not benefit from this game, but it would be good for students who like to construct or build things.)

47 wooden pieces are a lot to keep track of, but there is a nice cloth bag to keep the pieces in, and they are large enough that they won’t be easily lost. The cards and box are durable as well. You could try making your own cards with curriculum vocabulary to extend the game into other subjects. Or, for those of you with 3d printers, you could even add some pieces to the pile. Different age groups can definitely play together, so it does make a good family game.

Asymbol definitely ticks a lot of the boxes for a great classroom center or home entertainment!

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.