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

Embrace Race Action Guides

I am always on the lookout for practical ways to for parents and teachers to raise anti-racist children. So, when I found these “Embrace Race Action Guides” I knew that I wanted to mention them in one of my regular anti-racist posts. The guides can be read online or downloaded in PDF form in Spanish or English. I counted 28 guides altogether (be sure to click on the “next” button at the bottom of each web page to find more), and the ones that I looked at were brief and down-to-earth advice that could easily be implemented. From “Tips to Drawing Across Color Lines with Kids” to “5 Ways to Raise More Inclusive Kids if You Live in a Segregated Neighborhood,” I wish had access to these resources from the beginning of my teaching career and parenthood. There are many other topics, webinars, book suggestions, etc… on the site, so I encourage you to explore. I’ll be adding this to my Anti-Racism Wakelet, and I hope that you will also take a moment to visit some of the other 58 links I’ve included in that collection.

Photo by Mary Taylor on Pexels.com

October 2021

I’m a bit behind in blog posts, but the good news is that a little prep work from last year will pay off for this year! You can find all kinds of links for October activities, including Powers of 10 Day (October 10th) and Halloween, in this Wakelet I started last October. I’ve added a few new links that I got from MakerEd, TCEA, and Ditch That Textbook, and will continue to add more throughout this month. I also recommend that you check out the “Holiday Ideas” page on Big Ideas 4 Little Scholars, as Donna Lasher has a nice monthly list of activities that she keeps. If you find any broken links or want to recommend a resource I’ve missed on my Wakelet, please comment below!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Jon Stewart, M.C. Hammer, and Data

I spend a lot of time curating random things that interest me (see my NEO post on my curation methods here) , and I sometimes find obscure connections that inspire me to group them together into a blog post. As I was browsing my “Blog Ideas” Wakelet after my morning dog walk, I rediscovered a couple of resources I’d saved that correlated quite well with the podcast I’d just been listening to, Smartless. First, I’ll share a screen shot of this tweet from @AlvinFoo:

Next up, I have the updated Interactive Media Bias Chart, which has also been included in my Wakelet for “Evaluating Online Information.” (My daughter had originally shown me this site when she was taking a Journalism class last year, and I found it fascinating.) Whether you agree with its findings or not, it’s definitely worth discussing with older students when talking about current events and/or the reliability of news sources.

And, lastly, I have a quote from Jon Stewart that he attributes to M.C. Hammer (beware an expletive near the beginning) — and it is something we should never forget when looking at any data, including standardized test scores in education (click here if the embedded audio does not appear below):

There is nothing quite so satisfying as finding a way to tie together so many seemingly disparate topics in one post, so I consider my work done for today 😉

Tug of War

I want to start today’s post by thanking the NEISD GT teachers who attended yesterday’s after-school training. Many of them came even though they then needed to go back to other campuses to attend PTA meetings. Despite the extra long work day, their enthusiasm and cooperation were amazing. Yesterday’s session was, “Frameworks for Facilitating Deeper Discussions and Learning,” which you can read about on my Professional Development page.

One of the Visible Thinking Routines we practiced yesterday was “Tug of War.” We used an example from the original Making Thinking Visible book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. In the “Picture of Practice” for this routine, Clair Taglauer, an 8th grade teacher from Traverse City, Michigan, describes how she used “Tug of War” with her students when they began reading The Giver. This is a book used with 5th graders by many of the GT teachers in my former district. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, describes a dystopian society where as much as possible is “the same” to avoid conflict. Taglauer asked her students to think about the concept of an ideal society from the two opposing sides represented in the book: sameness and diversity. With this routine, students generate arguments that support each side, and then post them along a rope. A key part of the second step is placement of the ideas along the rope. Instead of just hanging them on each side, groups also determine the strength of each argument and rank them so that what they believe to be the strongest supporting statements for each side are at the opposite ends of the rope, growing increasingly weaker toward the middle.

“Tug of War” helps students to not only look at more than one side of a dilemma, but also to note the varying layers of complexities and justify their arguments. It’s a good routine to use whenever it seems like students are jumping to conclusions, and you can have multiple ropes coming together at one point if there are several sides to consider.

You can see one example of the “Tug of War” the GT teachers did yesterday below. (Note for those of you not from Texas: HEB is our beloved grocery store!) You can learn more about this Visible Thinking Routine by reading the book I mentioned above, visiting the Project Zero website, or clicking here for some videos and a downloadable template. I’m working on a Wakelet collection of resources for Thinking Routines, but in the meantime you can click here to see some other posts that I’ve done about them.

“Tug of War” Visible Thinking Routine using The Giver

Two More Anti-Racism Resources

I wanted to let you know that I’ve added two more resources to my Anti-Racism Wakelet. One of them is a link to a HyperDocs blog post, where Sarah Landis shares resources that include a set of Hyperdocs for teaching students about identity. The resources are based on the Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice, and would be a great way to begin the school year.

The other link I just bookmarked on the Wakelet is the Diverse BookFinder Tool, which was recognized as the 2021 Best Digital Tool by the American Association of School Librarians.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com
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