Gifts for the Gifted – Chicken War and Domino Maze

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Today’s Gifts for the Gifted entry is a guest post from my friend, Emily Mayes. She and her three children are the perfect sample group to review Thinkfun games. Although my family, students, and I have always been a big fan of Thinkfun (as you will see from previous Gifts for the Gifted posts), my retirement from the classroom last December prompted me to seek some other expert opinions!

“My three kids (ages 15, 12, and 8) have been playing Thinkfun games since they were in preschool and they are some of our favorites.  We recently tried out Chicken War and I was impressed that all three ages really enjoyed it. That can be difficult to find in a kid or family game! It does take some time to go through all of the rules and they can be confusing. We had to reread the instructions a few times and refer back to them as we started the game. But by our second game the next day we were old pros. 

Chicken War from Thinkfun Games

The game starts out with you having to choose a leader for your ten chicken army and while that may seem easy to younger players, older players will understand they should put thought into choosing as the first army with all matching chickens wins. The leader has to share two, and only two, characteristics with the rest of the chicken in their army. You can either infiltrate an enemy army, steal a chicken, or lob an egg at an enemy chicken you think may be their leader. That is how the strategy and planning are involved. My older two kids really enjoyed that part of it and did better ultimately than their younger brother who was more concerned with just his army and not paying attention to the other player’s armies. My oldest won both times and wasn’t a fair match to my youngest who really loved just matching the chickens and “lobbing” chickens when he could. Everyone really enjoyed it and we have reached for it again. 

The next game we tried out was Domino Maze. This is a solitary game -which we like to have on hand for when one child is bored but others are preoccupied. I am always on the hunt for games that increase their problem solving and critical thinking skills and really hone in on executive functioning skills. Domino Maze was another game that kept all three kids engaged and happy.

Thinkfun Domino Maze

 My oldest started with the more difficult challenges in the book while my younger one started from the beginning. The challenge book starts at beginner and tells the child which game pieces are needed for that particular challenge. Unlike some of the other Thinkfun solitaire games, your child will know if they did the challenge correctly if the dominoes fall the way the challenge indicates. However, the challenge book also gives correct answers if needed. My two oldest stuck to the challenges but my youngest started making his own creations and own challenges. I love that the game is so open-ended that it should keep kids of all ages busy and happy for quite some time. My 8 year old said, ‘I love that it comes with a staircase and a blocker that makes it more challenging. I liked playing with the staircase-  trying to make the dominoes go up and down!’ ” ~ Emily Mayes and her Superstar Family

Thanks to Emily and her family for their reviews! Both games sound like tons of fun. Who wouldn’t want to lob eggs or topple dominoes? Also, don’t forget you can always go to the Thinkfun home page to access resources for parents and educators that will take learning and games to the next level.

Nailed It!

During a thoroughly entertaining interactive session at ISTE 2020 last week, Tana Ruder, Adam Phyall, Carl Hooker (who also did a hilarious Lip Sync presentation), and Christina Zientek showed how you could use the concept from the hit T.V. show, Nailed It! in your classroom. If you are looking for ways to improve community, do Brain Breaks, and just have some fun with your students, their suggestions are awesome.

The first exercise was to recreate the painting, “Me and My Parrot,” by Frida Kahlo using things you could find at home. Some of the participants came up with ideas for tying this in to academics by having younger students use only objects that start with a certain letter, or (once all of the entries have been submitted) having students group people based on the objects they chose.

Activity #2 was to recreate a meme to reinforce a learning rule. I’ve used this with students before, and they really enjoy it. If you don’t want to use one of the many meme generator sites, you can use this simple Google Drawing template from Meredith Akers (shared by Tony Vincent with her permission).

Activity #3 was my favorite. The challenge was to recreate a scene from a movie using Autodraw.com. Autodraw uses Artificial Intelligence to guess what you are trying to draw and replace your own scribble with a better version. The movie scene results were hilarious.

Activity #4 was to recreate the lyrics of a song (television show theme songs are good to start with) using something from the curriculum. This activity has been another favorite in the past with my students, though the Nailed It! version suggests using just a small portion of the song.

To collect responses, you can use Flipgrid, Nearpod, Peardeck, Padlet, or whatever tool works best for you. Don’t forget that students love it when their teachers play along, so make sure your submissions are in there, too!

My very awesome representation of King Kong using Autodraw. My giant gorilla was so great that the AI had no suggestions for improving it…

Gifts for the Gifted – Codenames

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

I was a little late to the Codenames party, just having gotten it about a month ago. In fact, I was so late that I ordered the Codename Duet version because our daughter had just left for college and it was just my husband and I at home. Though the rules are slightly different for the 2-player version (you are playing cooperatively instead of against each other), the premise is the same. A grid of cards is set out on the table and another card lets you know which of the cards are “secret agents” that are your allies. You need to communicate with your team member(s) with clues to help them find the friendly agents. The constraints are that you can only give clues that have one word and a number, and that you do not have enough turns to use one word per agent – so you need to find ways to connect a couple or more of your agents with one defining word. The number you give is how many cards that word describes. So, if I say, “corn, 2” that means you are going to look for two cards in the grid that have something to do with corn.

The first couple of times that my husband and I played, we failed royally. In the Duet version, each card is a random word (some of the versions, like Disney, use pictures), and trying to find connections between some of the words was quite a stretch. But we started to find our groove and felt pretty good about it. Then we took turns playing with our daughter when she came home for the break, and we won practically every time.

Codenames is a game that really encourages productive struggle in a fun way. It reminds me of an activity we used to do in the gifted classroom called, “Forced Analogies.” According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, one of the characteristics of intellectually advanced young people is, “an ability to relate a broad range of ideas and synthesize commonalities among them.” This skill may come easily to some, but I believe it can also be developed with practice.

I saw at least 7 different versions of the Codenames game on Amazon, including Harry Potter and Marvel editions, so you can not only find something that appeals to your family’s interests, but also add more once you realize how much fun it is. And there is apparently this free version that you can play online – inviting people to your Codenames room. (I have not vetted this, so proceed with caution!)

Codenames is a great game for home or in the classroom. Pick out an edition that appeals to you, and enjoy!

Gifts for the Gifted – IQ Blox

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Also, I’m going to link to Amazon for these gifts temporarily, but would love to know if you know any independent stores who carry them. Please let me know so I can change the link to help out independent store owners!

So, for this week’s recommended gift I actually chose a product that frustrates me. I’ve admitted on this blog many times over the years that I need a lot more practice with spatial activities. We don’t do them enough in school and, as a female who grew up when toys were still extremely gender-biased, I was rarely exposed to blocks or Legos or anything that required this skill. This is one of the areas where I am fully aware that it’s important for me to have a growth mindset.

All of that being said, when I showed my husband IQ Blox, he immediately said, “Now, this is something I can get into!” And, of course he solved one of the starter puzzles I’d been staring at for 20 minutes in about 60 seconds.

At a reasonable price of $9.99 at most stores, IQ Blox would be a great stocking stuffer for people who love spatial puzzles and people who don’t love them. Especially kids. Get them started early on activities like this so they don’t grow up to be 50 years old and still have trouble figuring which direction they just came from when they walk out of a shop in the mall – like some people who will remain nameless.

IQ Blox is one of those solitary games that can also be done in pairs or small groups who take turns – similar to Dog Pile, Clue Master, or Solitaire Chess. There are 7 colorful pieces of different shapes, and 4 “wall pieces.” A booklet contains the challenges, which are scaffolded from “Starter” to “Wizard”. Each challenge is a picture that shows how the game needs to be set up to begin, and you have to figure out how to fit the rest of those pieces without moving the starter ones in the picture.

If you want to teach a Growth Mindset and don’t want this game to get thrown against the wall or accumulate dust from disuse, I have a few tips for introducing games like these to kids:

  • Do it with them at the beginning. You can take turns on the challenges. Model your thinking process. This has 2 advantages: kids love to spend time with you, and they can learn how they should deal with frustration.
  • Kids always, and I mean always, think the first few challenges are too easy. So they skip to the hardest ones, can’t do them as quickly as they expect, and give up. Instead, encourage them to work through the challenges in order, explaining they will get more difficult but they will learn new techniques as they go. Or, suggest they go to the hardest one at the next level. If they find it too difficult, they should go back to the last one they were able to solve quickly and keep working. If they find it easy, go to the hardest one on the next level. And, so on.
  • Strategies to model: turning the game around to look at it from different perspectives, figuring how the hardest place to put a piece first and put that one in, using process of elimination for spaces, and taking breaks from difficult ones (instead of looking at the answers in the back). I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out one of the puzzles, left it until the next day, and solved it in under 5 minutes. I felt so much better than if I had just looked at the answers!

IQ Blox is for ages 6 and up. If you are interested, here are a few other ways to practice Spatial Reasoning:

Gifts for the Gifted – Blank Slate

 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. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Also, I’m going to link to Amazon for these gifts temporarily, but would love to know if you know any independent stores who carry them. Please let me know so I can change the link to help out independent store owners!

We received Blank Slate as a family gift last December, and it has become one of our favorite games. You could easily adapt it to the classroom and change a few rules for more than the 3-8 players recommended. The premise of the game is quite simple. Each card has a word and a blank, such as “High_____________.” Turn over a card, and everyone writes a word that could go in the blank on their tiny slate. (How fun would this be with Peardeck or Whiteboard.fi?) Now the scoring part is what is interesting. If your answer matches with exactly one other person, you get 3 points, but if more than one person matches with you, only 1 point is awarded. And if no one matches you, 0 points are awarded. Of course, you can create any variations you want on this. For example, in my gifted classroom, I would have given more points to those who didn’t match anyone else. Or, as the game instructions suggest, you could give points extra points to people who match with a pre-determined person (maybe the teacher, or a student of the day?).

While I was searching for independent stores that might carry Blank Slate, I found an adorable young lady named Zozo who made a video about how to play the game with your friends through Zoom. I love her passion!

Use Jigsaw Explorer for a Virtual Escape Room Clue!

First of all, I need to give a HUGE shoutout to Bob Flora at Jigsaw Explorer. When I was writing my post about doing collaborative jigsaw puzzles online, I e-mailed Jigsaw Explorer to see if there was any way to disable the “preview” button so people would not be able to see what the completed puzzle looked like until they solved it. (If you read my original post, you saw my story about trying to use a jigsaw puzzle as a clue in a digital breakout (escape) room, thinking my high schoolers would need to solve the puzzle to get the clue, when one of the clever kids figured out all they had to do was hit the preview button.)

Bob Flora responded that they did not have such a feature at the time, but might add something some time next year. I thought that was the end of the story – but Mr. Flora did not. In an e-mail that has secured my customer loyalty for life, he informed me today that they have added a simple checkbox to the creation page so you can now hide the preview in your puzzles! This feature also disables the ability of players to change the number of puzzle pieces – so they can’t cheat by lowering the number of pieces to make it easier to solve.

Here was my procedure to check out this new feature: I created a simple question on a Google slide and downloaded it as a JPG. Then I uploaded it to IMGUR, and right-clicked to get the image address. That’s what you see in the top line. I left the number of puzzle pieces at the default, and put a checkmark in “Mystery Puzzle.” (Click on any of the question marks if you need help.) Then I clicked on the Create button, and got both short and long links to the puzzle, as well as the embed code if I wanted to add it to a website. And – don’t forget – you can then visit the link, click on the 3 lines on the top left, and choose, “Modify this puzzle.” This allows you to create a game link so multiple people can work on the puzzle at the same time online!

So, for all of you who want to add a bit of fun to your class, or want to design a full digital escape challenge for your students, add Jigsaw Explorer to your resources for creating fun clues. Here is my post with other clue creation ideas. This video shows you how to make a simple Digital Breakout using Google Forms. Here are some digital breakouts I’ve created in the past.

Of course, if you really want some student buy-in, have them create the puzzles!

Thank you, Mr. Flora, for not only adding this great feature, but taking the time to communicate with me!