Category Archives: Problem Solving

The Teachers’ December Survival Kit (Redux)

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3229526632

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

The River Crossing Riddle

TED Ed recently featured this “River Crossing Riddle” in its weekly newsletter.  It is similar to the “Bridge Riddle” I recommended on this blog last May.  I think it might be fun to act out the riddle in class to help students try to solve it.  When the video is finished, there are some other riddle suggestions that you may want to investigate as well.

River Crossing Riddle from TED Ed
River Crossing Riddle from TED Ed

If you enjoy River Crossing puzzles, here is a link to an online interactive one – and another one here from PBS Kids.

SolveMe Mobiles

I was wandering around the “Would You Rather Math” blog the other day and noticed a tweet from the author (@Jstevens009) on his sidebar about SolveMe Mobiles. “It’s challenging and stokes curiosity,” he wrote.

You don’t have to tell me twice.

I immediately visited the link and spent my lesson planning time “testing” the site to see if it would appeal to my students.  Kind of like the way I “test” all of the cookies in a fresh batch to determine if my family will think they are satisfactory…

Fortunately, most websites don’t disappear after you test them (unlike chocolate-chip cookies), so my students will still find plenty of curiosity-stoking challenges to keep them busy when they try out SolveMe Mobiles.

The games are similar to the Balance Benders series of books, which my students enjoy.  They help you to practice algebraic thinking as you try to figure out the value of each of the shapes on the mobile based on the clues that you are given.  Of course, it starts out deceptively simple, like the one below.

SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1
SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1

Both shapes have a value of 5 since the entire mobile is balanced, and has a total value of 10.

There are 200 challenges, so you will eventually reach ones like this:

SolveMe Mobiles #163
SolveMe Mobiles #163

The online interactivity is fun because the mobile will tip if you identify the wrong value for a shape.  Thank you, SolveMe Mobiles, for this much subtler way to say, “You’re Wrong!” than many other games use.

If you are going to want to record your progress  If your students want to record their progress, they can log in.  Otherwise, there is an option just to play without registering.  You can also build your own mobiles.  Or your students can.  I mean, you probably want the students to do it – but I won’t tell anyone if you do it, too.😉

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Spy School

My students have loved using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop so much that I thought they might enjoy some extra time with them over the summer.  So, earlier this year, I devised a plan for an Undercover Robots Camp to be held at my house.  Last week was the first session, “Spy School.”

Using 4 Dash robots, the campers were divided into teams of 3 for the week.  Dash received a letter that he was invited to train to be a secret agent at spy school, and each team took their robot through the different spy courses, such as speaking in Morse code and surveillance.  At the end of the week, their robots “graduated” from Spy School.

I’ve never done this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Fortunately, I had a great group of campers who were willing to experiment along with me.  Throughout the week, I sprinkled puzzles and crafts (such as creating undercover disguises for the robots) along with the programming challenges, so there were lots of opportunities for every team member to shine and get involved.

My favorite part of the week was the graduation ceremony.  The students got so creative with my box of random stuff as they made graduation hats and gowns for their robots!  And one of the teams leapt for joy when they finally were able to program their robot to join the graduation procession at the precise time and spot.  (Sorry that the video below got prematurely cut when I ran out of space on my phone.  Oh, and one robot got replaced right before the final ceremony due to low battery power!)

This week is our second session, where Dash has his first assignment as a bona-fide secret agent looking for the saboteur of a robot pageant.  I’ll let you know next week how our undercover spies do in foiling the plot!

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The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.

LEAD DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Zombie-bots

With my students, brainstorming generally begins with zombies.  So, even though our theme for the district Robotics Showcase was, “Trash Trek,” practically the first idea that was thrown out was zombies.

Now, one of the main rules of brainstorming is not to judge, but I immediately broke that rule.

“Umm, what do zombies have to do with trash?”  I asked.  Apparently, a lot of things – because the room was instantly filled with student voices calling out every connection they could think of between zombies and trash. (I just want to say it’s a little disconcerting to find out how many 4th and 5th graders have watched The Walking Dead when I don’t even allow myself to watch it.)

We finally settled on creating a challenge board which involved a robot taking a walk through a park, and he is suddenly chased by zombie hippies (don’t ask me where the hippie part came in), and the only way he can escape them is by pushing a bunch of rubbish out of his way into a recycling bin so he can get to the militarily protected part of the park.  (Important because we happened to have lots of plastic army men, so it would be a shame not to include them.)

Admittedly, a stretch.

As we planned what props to use on the challenge board, the students were, not surprisingly, more invested in the zombies than the trash.  “We should make them jump out at the robot,” one student said. He was new to this, and didn’t realize that we would not be at the board as other students tried to solve the challenge. I explained that we were not physically dressing up as zombie hippies, and in fact, would be working elsewhere during the zombie hippie attack.

“Why don’t we use the Ozobots?” one of the students asked?

“Yeah! We can attach the zombies to them and they can move around the board!”

And so, a new idea was born.  The problem was, the Robotics Club hadn’t learned how to use Ozobots, yet…

“Okay, Maker Club,” I announced the following Monday.  “We’re going to help out the Robotics Club by making zombie hippies.”  After I explained the idea, the Maker Club happily got to work.  They created tracks for the zombie hippie bots and drew suitably terrifying zombie hippies of all shapes and sizes.  Much testing was needed to see if the tracks had been coded correctly, and if the zombie hippies were light enough for their bots to carry them. Some students made zombie hippie tubes, and others made cut-outs to ride the Ozobots.  Some tracks had the zombie hippies dance, while others had them slow down, and then leap forward with zeal to grab your brains.

Some things we learned that don’t work very well:

  • Zombie tubes.  Great concept, but too much drag on the Ozobot.
  • Inconsistent tracks.  When you glob a bunch of black in one part of the track, this apparently makes your zombie hippie bot freeze – which is a lot less ominous, unfortunately.
  • Covering the Ozobot power button with your zombie hippie.  Kind of hard to activate the zombie hippie when its leg is taped over the power button.

The Robotics Club was quite impressed by the Maker Club’s contribution.  (Some Maker Club students also helped to make the park trees a bit more stable for our board, too.)  The Maker Club was happy to help.  And the participants in the Robotics Showcase from other schools were appropriately fearful of our fearsome zombie hippies, but still able to meet the challenge of avoiding them and picking up the trash.

To summarize:

  • Zombies should never be written off just because they are zombies.
  • Kids have way better ideas than I do.
  • It’s totally more fun to make with a purpose, especially if it involves using your expertise with coding to design zombie hippie bots.
  • I don’t think Robotics Club will ever make a static challenge board again.

For more information about Ozobots, visit their website, especially their STEM education page which offers lessons and other resources for teachers.

Photo May 21, 9 14 08 AM
In retrospect, this is a terrible picture. I should have gotten a closer-upper photo of the zombies. But since I’ve already written the post, you will just have to take my word for it that they were fierce-looking.  The zombie hippies, I mean.  Not the people.