3-12, Critical Thinking, Games, Math, Problem Solving

Puzzles and Games from Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, which held its first event in 2007, was named after a famous mathematician. Though the festival was partially sidelined due to Covid a couple of years ago, it continued with virtual events, and it looks like it has some upcoming activities. If you are unable to attend in person, though, you can still participate by playing one of the many online games, or even downloading one of the free, printable booklets. The games include some classics, like River Crossings, and Tower of Hanoi, but there are plenty of others that will likely be new to you and your students. One very helpful feature you will find is that the instructions to each game are on Google Slide presentations, with links to the online game, and an option for Spanish instructions.

I’ll be adding this link to two of my collections: Brainteasers and Puzzles and Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep. Got advanced learners? This would be great for them! Early finishers? Students with math anxiety who need to see it can be fun? A little extra time at the end of class or a much-needed break from test prep? These are all good occasions to check out the JRMF site!

Games, Problem Solving

Woohoo for the Wordle Wakelet!

I’ve been watching the “Wordle” craze for a few weeks, and observing its slow creep into the classrooms. For those of you who have been lucky enough to escape this addiction in the form of a game invented by Josh Wardle (I confess that I am a Wordle fanatic, so there is a small amount of sarcasm in my choice of words), here is an explanation of the colored squares you may have observed showing up on social media streams. And no, we are not talking about word clouds, which were all the rage a decade ago!

As I was collecting resources and preparing for today’s post, I was also attempting to make my own lame version of a customizable Wordle game using conditional formatting in a spreadsheet so I could share it with teachers. Fortunately, I only wasted about 10,000 hours on that (but man, I now know a lot about conditional formatting) before I ran across this brilliant suggestion in a Twitter thread, My Wordle Me. This may be one of the best ways to go if you are using it with kids. As some of us know, there was a Wordle answer last week that was not inappropriate if you use it in the right context (think something painful you might do to your thumb with a needle), but highly amusing to middle schoolers who are always good at jumping to the exactly wrong context. There was a very fun Twitter thread of teachers who had that entertaining experience…

So, I had that link to share, and then came across a math one that I know my gifted students would have loved, called Oodle. Great! Now I had two fabulous links to give readers!

And then I got an email from a community I belong to for TCEA, and was blown away by the amount of Wordle variations out there! I want to thank Lori Gracey (@lgracey) for sharing those, but I couldn’t find a way to link to it, so I decided to make a Wakelet. In addition Lori Gracey shared a Twitter post from Tony Vincent (@TonyVincent) from Learning in Hand, who also shared some that were new to me. His post even includes a link to one where you can play against someone at the same time.

So, why play Wordle in the classroom? Well, as you know I think it’s great to borrow game ideas to shake things up in the classroom. And, of course, with the customizable version you can directly target vocabulary from your curriculum. Another big benefit is the logic and problem solving skills students need to use, and trying to improve on their own performance from the previous attempts. But one indirect advantage is that it helps you to challenge your assumptions. Sometimes I won’t guess a word because I think it’s too slangy or could be misconstrued (like the aforementioned answer that set middle schoolers giggling around the world). So I’m trying to get over that. The other assumption you might make which can also be a stumbling block is that once you get a letter correct, you tend to forget that it can still be in other places in the word — so you mentally eliminate it from the other spaces. It reminds me of a post I did almost 6 years ago about a TedEd video where people who need to solve a math pattern have a terrible time because they nearly all make the same assumption and can’t get past it.

Another interesting logic activity to do with Wordle is to start from the answer and work backward to see if you can figure out the other words someone guessed!

Also, if you want to get deep with students philosophically, there is the interesting social contract that seems to be observed by a huge portion of Wordle players that “what happens in today’s Wordle stays in today’s Wordle.” Most, though not all, are careful about not revealing the answer and ruining the fun for people who have yet to play that day’s game.

All of this is to say that I made a Wakelet of Wordles (versions of Wordle games), which will be a stand-alone collection, but I will also be adding a link to it in my Brainteasers and Puzzles Wakelet. Don’t forget that you can follow all of my Wakelets here.

Also, just a reminder to sign up to receive notification about when my new courses for credit come online. The first one, “An Introduction to Genius Hour,” will be free for a limited time!

Wordle attempts

Computer Science, K-12, Problem Solving

Hour of Code 2021

I don’t know about you, but December was always a difficult month for me the 29 years that I was in the classroom. In the States, many students come back from a Thanksgiving break at the end of November and have a hard time turning off Vacation-Mode as they eagerly anticipate the Winter Break less than a month later. So, when opportunities like Hour of Code come along to introduce some novelty and help students practice their logic and problem-solving skills in a different way, it can really make the month more fun for everyone.

Hour of Code is annually celebrated all over the world in December, and it’s planned by Code.org for the week of December 6-12 (Also Computer Science Education Week) this year. The goal is to get your class to spend at least one hour coding so they can see that coding is not a mysterious and unattainable skill. It can be done as a class, school, district, after-school, or even by yourself if you just want to take baby steps because it’s your first time. You don’t even have to use a digital device if you are tired of screens.

I gushed about the benefits I observed in my own classroom in last year’s post, and wanted to make sure I gave you plenty of time to consider participating this year. The tutorials on this page make it so easy for you to search for the grade level, type of technology (or none), and even by subject. And, there is absolutely no requirement for the teacher to know how to code (though it’s certainly fun to learn). In fact, I often argue that it’s better that you don’t know a lot, so you won’t be tempted to help the students too much.

I do have a bunch of Coding Resources in this collection (check out the Creative Computing Curriculum from Harvard for Beginners, which is great and not overwhelming), and if your school, group, or district ever wants to learn more about how coding, specifically with Scratch, can be used in the curriculum, I have a “Step Up Your Game Design” PD ready to present. Email me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com for more info!

PS. Want to try an Add-On to make your own Scratch Blocks? This is what I used to add the blocks in my image below.

Learn more about this PD here!

Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-5, Problem Solving

Undercover Robots Spy School Free!

This week I am offering some of my TPT resources for free in honor of all of the teachers out there who have been working so hard this year and every year. Check out Tuesday’s post and Wednesday’s, if you missed them, to see the links for S.C.A.M.P.E.R. creative thinking freebies I gave out. Today, I am making my Robot Camp packet – normally $10 – free for all. This is a 38 page packet with 10 “Missions” for robots who are learning how to be spies. With puzzles and programming challenges that were designed to use with the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop, the activities are open-ended enough that you can definitely modify them to use with other robots. You can see some examples of how I used the activities with a summer camp I did here. The students really loved when their robots “graduated” from Spy School!

Games, K-12, Problem Solving

Poison Pudding

Today’s post was inspired by a question from a reader from Denali Montessori Elementary. She mentioned a game that they play in their GT classroom called, “Poison Pudding.” This is how she describes the game: “I set up a course on the floor with a duct-taped grid on top of a tablecloth. The kids try and figure out the course one by one by stepping on squares. If they stepped correctly, they get another turn. If not, they go to the end and the next person goes and so on until they have figured out the course.”

She asked if I knew of any other movement games for GT, and I could not think of any, other than unplugged coding activities or The Human Knot (which is used a lot in teambuilding activities). I could see some of these ideas from Cult of Pedagogy being implemented in a GT classroom, but I was wondering if you, the reader, have any other suggestions. If you do, please comment on this post or e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com. If I get more than a few recommendations, I will compile them into a new post to share with everyone. In the meantime, try “Poison Pudding”! It sounds like a great memory challenge!

Image by Eluj from Pixabay
K-12, Problem Solving, spatial reasoning

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.

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com