Category Archives: Problem Solving

6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online

I’m back online here in Texas after our week of crazy weather. It’s 74 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny today – and I’m perfectly happy for it to stay that way!

My latest blog post for NEO was published last Thursday while my fingers were still too cold to type on a keyboard. “6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online” emphasizes the importance of offering plenty of opportunities to children to learn and develop aptitude in this area. During my 29 years in the classroom I observed that spatial reasoning was often overlooked, but has many extremely practical applications in our everyday lives. I also saw, and was the casualty of, gender discrimination in this area. Though I think physical practice is the best way to sharpen spatial reasoning, I mention many free digital tools that you can use in the article. In addition, I’ve made this Wakelet of over 40 links to games, toys, articles, and websites that support spatial reasoning.

My previous NEO articles have been:  Let’s Talk a Good Game: Mining Talk Shows for Classroom Engagement Ideas, How to Do More with Less Screen TimeHow to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual ClassroomsTop Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

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Mathigon Puzzle Calendars

Mathigon has appeared on this blog from time to time, most notably on my post, “15 Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” because of its visually engaging math activities. In the past few years, the site has offered a puzzle calendar with 24 different challenges every December, only one of which can be opened each day. Solutions are given the subsequent days, but you will need to log in (it’s free to register) to see them. If you prefer to pick and choose among puzzles, the puzzles from 2017-2019 are available by clicking on the tabs at the top of the page – great for challenging your advanced students or looking for specific math problems that will support what you might be currently covering in your curriculum.

Since Mathigon’s puzzle calendar is basically a mathematical Advent calendar, I will be adding this post to my Winter Holiday Wakelet. Check it out for some more fun activities to do this December!

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Hour of Code 2020

I cannot express enough how participating in the first Hour of Code several years ago changed my life, and hopefully made a positive difference in the lives of my students. We were all new to coding in my classroom back then, and learned together. From that time on, coding has been part of my life and integrated into my classes. I am still not an expert by any means – which has been a great benefit to me as a teacher. It allows me to encourage productive struggle and for all of us to celebrate when problems are solved.

This year’s Hour of Code will be from December 7-11, 2020. One way you can participate is by finding activities on this page, which allows you to filter for grade level, ability level, and device. You can even do “unplugged” activities. Another option is to use one of the Choice Boards created by Shannon Miller for this occasion.

Code.org also just announced a new series that they are providing on Artificial Intelligence. Dive into these lesson plans, videos, and a live panel discussion on AI designed for upper grades.

If you want to delve deeper after Hour of Code, I highly, highly recommend the free Code.org courses, which are very engaging for students and provide a dashboard and lesson plans to teachers. I taught this as an elective for 6th graders last year, and they really took it to the next level.

I’m going to be creating a Wakelet of coding resources that I will share next week. Also, if you are interested in having me present to your staff on Coding for beginners and how to integrate it into your curriculum, please contact me at @engagetheirminds.com

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Gifts for the Gifted – Sleuth and Solve

 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.

If you know children who love riddles, like the ones on TED Ed, and are about 8 years and up, you might want to consider getting them one of the Sleuth and Solve books (there are two) by Anna Gallo and Victor Escandell. Each book has more than 20 short riddles with fun illustrations and the answer behind a card you can fold down. I have only previewed the one with the black cover (not the History one), so I can’t describe both, but I imagine their format is similar.

The riddles use icons to communicate to the reader whether or not they can be solved using logic or imagination, and there are stars to indicate their difficulty levels (six stars being the most difficult). Some of the riddles are familiar, such as “Crossing the River,” while others are definitely new to me. One feature that I really like is that the book describes how it can be played as a game, encouraging families (or groups in class) to keep track of the cases they solve and how many points they earn for each solution based on the difficulty level. As I mentioned in last week’s gift post, you can really maximize the impact of any gift if you, the giver, play along with the recipient. And, don’t assume you will have to “play dumb.” Some of these riddles are quite diabolical.

I am giving you a link to these books from one of our new local bookstores, Nowhere Bookshop. The store is owned by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, also known as “The Bloggess.” Unfortunately, their grand opening coincided with the pandemic, so they have only been able to operate virtually. I’d love for you to support them so they will be able to survive and one day open their doors. If you prefer to support another independent bookstore, you can find some on Bookshop.org.

For those who love mysteries and riddles, here is a link to a past recommendation from this series, Invisible Ink books.

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:

Jigsaw Explorer

UPDATE 10/22/2020: Jigsaw Explorer now has a feature to hide puzzle previews in case you want students to solve the puzzle before seeing the final picture. Learn more here!

Want to add a little light fun to your online classrooms? How about doing a collaborative jigsaw puzzle? Jigsaw Explorer might be just the ticket for a bit of community building.

There are many online jigsaw puzzle sites out there, as I found out when I started doing a bit of research on this topic. Techie Teacher wrote a great post about using Jigsaw Planet. But I had the specific criteria that I wanted it to be a site where I could use my own picture (so I could possibly use something connected to the curriculum), and that it could be easily collaborative. Jigsaw Explorer seems to fit the bill.

You can, of course, use the puzzles already provided on Jigsaw Explorer – including their Friday mystery puzzles which only give you part of the image. This particular site does not allow you to actually upload pictures initially*, so you need to get the web address of the picture you want to use. I did a Creative Commons Search for a picture of the frog life cycle, right-clicked, saved the image address, and pasted it here. You can then add credits to your puzzle and choose the number of pieces. Once you create it, you are given links to share the puzzle, and an embed code if you want to put it on your own website. When you open a puzzle you’ve made, you will see an icon with the silhouette of two people, which allows you to share the puzzle in multiplayer mode. You choose a nickname and create a game link to copy and share. Up to 20 people can be working on the same puzzle at a time. Here are more instructions for the multiplayer games. *Also, if you do actually want to upload a picture you already have on your computer, you can click on the three lines in the top left within a puzzle to make your own.

I tried doing an activity like this last year, when I was doing a digital breakout (escape room), and the students were supposed to put the puzzle together to reveal a clue. I didn’t realize that there was a preview button so they actually didn’t need to solve the puzzle! Unfortunately, this is the case on all of the online jigsaw puzzle sites that I found. However, I found this great video from Joli Boucher that shows how you can put a jigsaw puzzle on Google slides. It’s a bit time-consuming, but definitely an option if you are trying to keep the final picture a mystery. (For other ideas for digital breakout tools, you can visit this post.)

Since I have family members and friends who love to do jigsaw puzzles, I’m hoping to do a Zoom Jigsaw party soon! One idea for the classroom might be to showcase student art by making it into a jigsaw puzzle. You’re all so creative, I am sure you will think of lots of ways to use this with your students.

Free image/jpeg, Resolution: 720×542, File size: 51Kb, Frog Life Cycle Diagram N3