Category Archives: Parenting

Undercover Robots Camp 2017

Do you live in the San Antonio, TX area?  Do you have a child aged 7-11?  Then this is the camp for you!  I am offering an Undercover Robots Camp this June, 2017.  We will be using the fabulous Dash robots from Wonder Workshop.  (Robot purchase is not required, but bringing your own can result in a camp discount.)  Here is the link to the registration page.

You can see highlights from last year’s camp sessions here and here.  We will be doing the “Spy School” session again this year (with modifications for students who previously participated) as well as a brand new “Circus” edition during our second week.

For more information, click here.  It’s going to be great fun!!!

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Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Swish

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.

gifts

When ThinkFun sent me the game Swish to review, I knew right away that it would be a challenge for me.  I have a hard time with spatial reasoning – which is why my students can easily leave me in the dust when we play another spatial reasoning game, Set.

There are several differences between Swish and Set, however.  First of all, Swish is the second game in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series this year that has transparent cards. (See “Anaxi” for the first.)  Although both Set and Swish require you to look closely at the attributes of shapes on the cards and to collect sets that fit certain criteria, the Swish cards’ transparency is strategic because they must be stackable to create winning sets.  You must “swish” all of the ball shapes into matching colored hoop shapes on the cards.  A swish could consist of two cards, but you may be able to combine even more. (Apparently, you can make a swish of up to 12 cards!)

When our family played the game, my daughter had about 5 pairs of swishes before my husband and I could even get our eyes to focus on the cards.  It wasn’t long before she was collecting swishes with 3 or 4 cards stacked on top of each other.  Apparently, she is some kind of 14-year-old Swish Savant who isn’t bothered one bit by humiliatingly crushing the parents who brought her into this world;)  Fortunately, the creators of the game built in a cunning solution to this, which is that you can differentiate for the ability levels of the players.  Foundational players may only need to look for two stackable cards while advanced players can be required to find swishes that contain at least 3 or 4 (or 12!) cards.

Swish is for 2 or more players, ages 8 and up.  Younger players may want to begin with Swish, Jr.  Swish has won numerous toy awards, and is great for home or the classroom.  You can see reviews of more ThinkFun games and others on my Pinterest Board here.

Swish from ThinkFun
Swish from ThinkFun

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Osmo Coding

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.

gifts

Osmo first made the “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, the company has continued to push the envelope as it produces more interactive, educational games for children that combine physical pieces with the digital interface of an iPad.  Here is what I wrote about Osmo’s “Coding” game this summer:

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding

GoNoodle Has an App!

My students, particularly those in the K-3 grade levels, have really enjoyed using GoNoodle for brain breaks in our classroom.  The kids enjoy the music, the great variety of videos, and the movement.

Now students can log in to their own iOS devices at home to jump, dance, and sing with their favorite GoNoodle tunes. The iOS app is free, but students will need a parent to sign up and log them in the first time.  Make sure the child has a good place to set up his or her device for viewing while participating (an Apple TV is great for this!) so he or she can have hands-free fun!

GoNoodle is a great way to get the family moving before or after a heavy holiday meal, or after a long car trip to grandma’s house 🙂

Download the free GoNoodle app now!
Download the free GoNoodle app for iOS now!

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Fish in a Tree

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.

gifts

When a new student entered our 3rd grade gifted and talented class this year a few weeks after we’d begun classes, I thought we might need to spend some time filling her in on what she had missed so far. I was wrong.  Growth mindset, the importance of stretching your brain, systems thinking – she had already covered these topics at her previous school.  One day, we were talking about how, if you don’t learn about how to deal with challenges you might begin to avoid them altogether because you don’t want people to think you aren’t smart and she said, “This reminds me of Fish in a Tree!”  She was so excited about the connection between this library book that she was reading and our discussion that I said, “I would like to read that book, too!”

“There’s extra copies in the library!” she exclaimed!

“Well, let’s all read it, then!” I said, completely caught up in her exuberance and not at all concerned that I had just committed our small class to reading a book that I hadn’t previewed yet and that the “recommender” hadn’t even finished.  We went straight to the library and checked it out.

My student was right.  Fish in a Tree is the perfect supplement to our classroom discussions.  In the story, the main character, Ally, covers up her difficulty with reading.  She eventually finds out, due to a dedicated teacher, that she has dyslexia.  Along the way, she learns that making good friends is more worthwhile than trying to fit in, and that her imagination, perseverance, and courage are truly admirable.

The other young characters in the story, especially the new friends that Ally makes, remind me of many of the students I’ve taught over the years.  Ally’s teacher exemplifies so many of the caring colleagues I have had the honor of working with during my career.

In the book, Ally’s use of figurative language – particularly similes – offers a lot of opportunities for discussion along with great mental images that make the story come to life.Fish in a Tree

If you are a parent, I encourage you to buy this book for your child, and read it together.  If you are a teacher, read it along with your class (and here are some classroom activities to go along with it).  It’s a heartwarming novel that emphasizes kindness, understanding, and individuality.

 

I Just Want to Know Why Joel Didn’t Save the Goat

I despise routine, mundane activities.  My daughter inherited this attitude, unfortunately, so we often find ourselves at an impasse when neither one of us feels motivated to do something that needs to be done.

She rides a shuttle bus from her magnet school each day, and her responsibility is to text me when the bus leaves so I can meet her at its destination.  My responsibility is to keep reminding her to text me so the rest of our afternoon doesn’t turn into angry accusations about who forgot who.

The other day, she actually remembered to text me as she left.  Usually, I try to reward this with a response like, “On my way!” or , “Okay!”  Feeling a bit perverse and bored with always giving the same answers, I decided to text, “ocean,” instead.

“?” she texted back.

I don’t know why I texted “ocean.”  Moms aren’t supposed to do random, unexplained things.  Why did I type “ocean” of all words?  Where did that come from?  How was I supposed to follow that?

“Joel,” I texted next, feeling that I might as well make her think I had gone completely insane.

No response.

When I parked at the school to wait for her bus, I sent one more word – “goat.”

Unsurprisingly, my daughter had raised eyebrows when she finally got in the car.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“You’re supposed to figure out what all three have in common,” I said – as though this had been the plan the whole time.

“They all have o’s?” she asked.

“Nope.”

After a few more guesses, she resorted to Google on her phone.

“So, apparently, a guy named Joel saw a goat jump into the ocean,” she said.

“Yeah.  That’s not it, either.”

Google finally rewarded her after she sifted out all of the suicidal goat links.

“They’re all Billy’s!” she exclaimed.

“Yep.”

“This is fun!  Let’s do it again!  I might actually remember to text you if this is what happens every time.”

Her last statement penetrated my teacher brain, reinforcing something that I’ve known for awhile but never considered applying to our minor daily Battle of the Texts.

We all enjoy challenges that are in our Zone of Proximal Development.  In fact, they can engage and motivate us.  I observe this daily in my students when they make faces about tough math problems or reading passages – yet beg for more after they’ve succeeded.  It’s why activities like Breakout EDU and the Wonder League Robotics Competition missions are so popular.  These problems are novel and require deliberate thought, but are achievable with hard work.

Many of us struggle with how to motivate our children and/or students.  Rewards seem like bribes, and punishment causes resentment – which is never productive. We want our young people to develop intrinsic motivation instead of becoming eternally dependent on a carrot or a stick.  That ZPD contains the secret. Find that activity that makes them think a little harder, but is within their reach, and their eventual success will make them hunger for the next challenge instead of dreading or avoiding it.

By the way, it has been two days since the first random, accidental text.  So far, my daughter has not forgotten to text me and even, much to her delight, was able to solve one of my puzzles without any help from Google.  Of course, you don’t have to think of your own puzzles like this. Tribond is a game with the same purpose, and there are plenty of resources on the internet that are similar.  If you want something a bit harder, check out “Kennections” by Ken Jennings.

Someone please tell these goats not to jump...
Someone please tell these goats not to jump…

Ada Twist, Scientist

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist.  Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M.  They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.

Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds.  Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”

You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.

For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.

You can’t resist Ada Twist, Scientist!

image from Ada Twist, Scientist
image from Ada Twist, Scientist