Category Archives: Problem Solving

Think Like a Coder

TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom.  These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students.  You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords.  Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.”  Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)

If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals.  Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.”  It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room.  Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination.  The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.

Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t.  It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding.  If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a Code.org studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given.  This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.

Circuit Board Brain
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The Social Distancing Puzzles

Yesterday’s post, which was about finding creative ways to make Zoom (or any online conference) calls fun, was a nice lead-in today’s shared activity. Eric Berlin, puzzlemaker extraordinaire, (see my Puzzlesnacks post for more info) came up with an ingenious idea that adds a twist to social distancing while earning money for charity.  When you use the form linked on this page to donate to Feeding America, and then provide a screen shot of your receipt, you will be e-mailed two sets of eleven puzzles in PDF form.  Choose a puzzle partner to give Set A or B to, and you will work on the other.  You can do some of the puzzles independently, and others will need collaboration.  The combination of puzzle answers from both sets will be needed to solve the final puzzle.

I haven’t done all of the puzzles, yet, but they look like they are probably suited for teenagers and up.  With your two sets of challenges comes a third file of hints and solutions.  For more information about Feeding America, you can visit this page on their website.  However, be sure to go to Eric Berlin’s page through this link so your donation will be correctly allocated.

Word Puzzle Grid
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Chess Resources

A friend of mine asked for some chess resources to use with her after-school chess club (elementary-aged), and I thought I would share the ones that I was able to curate.  If you have any other suggestions (other than sites where you can play chess online), please comment below.

The game that I like to use to introduce how the chess pieces move is Tic Tac Chec.  I just did a search on my blog, and I can’t believe that I’ve never posted about this game before.  I used to use it with my Kinder and 1st graders all of the time, and they quickly picked it up.  The game board is a wooden 4×4 grid, and the two players each get 4 different chess pieces, one of which they can place or move during their turns.  The object is to get 4 of your pieces in a row.  If you are captured, you can use your next move to put your piece back on the board.  It’s fun to watch the students keep capturing each other, and finally realizing no one can win if that’s all you do!

Solitaire Chess is another game for practicing chess movements without playing the actual game.  This one-player game offers scaffolded challenges that show pictures of a 4×4 chess board set up with some pieces.  Your goal is to figure out how to move the pieces so that only one is left.  Each move must be a “legal” capture.  You can also play Solitaire Chess online (make sure you have Flash enabled on your computer), and there is a video tutorial.

Here are some other online chess challenges:

UIL Texas has this printable packet of mini-games for teaching chess.

For videos, don’t forget the inspirational one, The Magic of Chess, that I shared a couple of weeks ago.  Also, Kids Academy has a series of animated videos on YouTube, beginning with Getting to Know the Game.

Want to use chess for an integrated lesson, where students design their own chess pieces and/or boards?  This is a great lesson plan from Scopes-DF.

If you aren’t convinced of the educational benefits of teaching chess to young children, this article may help you to learn more!

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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Puzzlesnacks

A few years ago, I wrote a post about a site called, “Puzzle Your Kids.”  Hosted by the author of the Puzzling World of Winston Breen series, Eric Berlin (@puzzlereric), “Puzzle Your Kids” provided a free puzzle each week, as well as a $5 monthly subscription for more puzzles.  It looks like there have been a few changes, and the site has a new name and new home, along with a new price.  It is now called, “Puzzlesnacks.”  You can still get a subscription, but it is at the bargain price of $3 per month.  Weekly puzzles continue to be free downloads, and there are other puzzle packs you can purchase in the online shop.  This page describes the approximate independence level of puzzle solvers, from the age of 8 and up.  I highly recommend adults working on these with children, as that type of modeling from my own parents is how I grew up to love logic and problem solving as well as develop a certain amount of perseverance.  In fact, my dad and I still semi-compete in solving a weekly mega-Sudoku puzzle that keeps my skills sharpened and my ego humble.

And no, I’m not exactly sure what language the crossword puzzle in the image below is (Greek, maybe?), but I thank the person on Pixabay who shared it.

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Image by Thanasis Papazacharias from Pixabay

The Art of Engineering

There aren’t any fancy graphics on this video, but I love the message that Katie Correll gives in this short presentation.  I keep trying to convince my students that engineering is so much more than math and science, that’s it’s not just about following formulas and rules but about learning how to use them to innovate and sometimes even break those rules.  One of my students pointed out that Katie’s message about thinking outside of the box to problem solve can really apply to anyone – not just engineers.

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BreakoutEdu for the Win

My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes.  I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.

I even tried the Hour of Code with a group.  But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.

It has definitely been a bit humbling.  Sometimes depressing.  Often humiliating.  I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.

Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me.  I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking.  So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.

I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before.  And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)

I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.

As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”

It didn’t happen.

The challenge took them about 30 minutes.  Nobody fought.  Nobody gave up.  Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.

And no one asked to go to the bathroom.

After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn.  Every teacher should do this!”

But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.

“Can we do this again?” she asked.  “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.

Now. That. Is. Huge.

For my first post on BreakoutEdu, click here.

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Not my students.  But just as engaged.  From Kentucky Country Day School on Flickr