3-12, Books, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted — The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

When I was in the GT Classroom, some of the resources I inherited from the previous teacher were books of “lateral thinking puzzles.” I can’t recall the specific author, but today’s recommendation has similar puzzles and is written specifically for students ages 9-12. Some of the puzzles are definitely suitable for younger, and I have a feeling you could pose others to adults and stump them.

“Lateral thinking” is a term attributed to Edward de Bono, also widely known for his “Six Thinking Hats.” According to de Bono, we use two types of thinking when solving problems — logical or “vertical” thinking and creative or “lateral” thinking. Often a combination of these is needed in order to innovate.

Many riddles/brainteasers have come to be known as lateral thinking puzzles because they challenge you to think beyond the obvious assumptions. Often using puns, words that have multiple meanings, or topics in which we may have unconscious biases, these puzzles often seem impossible until we examine ourselves and try to coax our brain along a new path.

For example, Danielle Hall’s book, The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids, includes a riddle I’ve seen many times with different names substituted, “Alex is Charlie’s brother, but Charlie isn’t Alex’s brother. How is this possible?” The answer is that Charlie is Alex’s sister, but the reason this requires lateral thinking is due to the fact that many think of the name Charlie as predominantly a male name.

You can find this book at Bookshop.org or your favorite independent bookstore.

There are some riddles that I’ve seen before in this book, but many that are new to me. Among the 175 puzzles, you will find some classics like the Riddle of the Sphinx and other more recent creations. Answers are in the back of the book. If you’re a teacher, these riddles are great for transitions and brain breaks. If you’re a parent, they are fun for dinner conversations or car rides. Children will love trying to stump you, and it’s great for the adults to do “think alouds” as they try to solve the riddles in order to model lateral thinking and persistence.

If you’re interested in more brainteasers like these, I have an entire collection here. You might also enjoy this gift recommendation from 2020, Sleuth and Solve. You can also find other book recommendations on my Pinterest board.

Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-12, Problem Solving

Let it Snow During Hour of Code!

It’s Computer Science Education Week (12/5-12/11), which means it’s time to do an Hour of Code with your students. I still remember when I first tried it with mine, and I was super worried it would be a complete disaster. I did not know how to code, so how could I facilitate a session of it? However, the Hour of Code tutorials are so helpful that I found myself just as engaged as the students — and we all celebrated whenever we figured out how to solve glitches in our coding.

Since then I’ve dabbled more in coding, and the Hour of Code website has become even better with searchable tutorials that you can filter by grade level, device, and ability level. Of course, there are also “unplugged” coding activities that require no device.

I think every student should get introduced to coding. Just like music or art, it could become their “thing” and they would never know if they don’t get the opportunity to try it out. My students and I also found many lessons in coding that we could apply to our own lives through Systems Thinking (some of which I outlined here).

One of my favorite HOC lessons was one I did with a first grade general education class. I had volunteered to help facilitate HOC on my campus, and it snowed the night before — a very unusual event in San Antonio. So, I switched gears and decided to help the students learn how to code snow in Scratch Jr. on the iPads. Now, there are several ways that you can do this, but I decided that the snow would be a character (or sprite, as Scratch likes to call them) so they could actually code how it behaved. You can learn more about the lesson, and see examples here. Keep in mind that this was a lesson from 2017, so some of the features may have been updated in Scratch Jr.

My Scratch Jr. lesson is one of many that I’ve collected and share on my December Wakelet, which has columns for: Computer Science Education Week, General, Kwanza/Hannukah/Other Winter Holidays, Creative Activities, Puzzles and Games, and STEM. Another popular post on there is my snow globe one, though it isn’t a coding lesson — If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I’d Wear a Bike Helmet to Bed. I’ll keep updating the Wakelet as I find more!

Critical Thinking, Games, K-12, Problem Solving

Gifts for the Gifted – Building Road Breakthrough

Several 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 (except for 2019) every 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, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

For this week’s gift recommendation, I went with a logic game that can appeal to a wide range of ages (3+) for different reasons. It initially appealed to me because I thought my nephew, who is about to turn 3, might like it. It has 2 things that he currently likes — a truck and marbles. Surprisingly, my teenage daughter also found it fun, so this toy definitely scores highly in the area of multi-aged/generational play.

This game scores low on durability because there are many pieces that could easily get lost, including a few marbles. No containers are provided other than the plastic they are packaged in, which isn’t reusable. However, I found a gallon storage bag keeps everything together nicely other than the 4 large pieces that fit together to make the base of the game.

A challenge book is included that scaffolds the puzzles from primary to master. The object is to get the windup truck from the starting tile to the final tile, where it deposits its marble. The colored pictures in the primary level show where to place the tiles, gradually adding more pieces, so young children can work on copying the 2d version to their 3d pieces, and then cheer when their truck reaches its destination. After that level, the puzzles show how to set up some of the tiles, and then the player must figure out where the other tiles need to be placed in order for the truck to have a successful journey. Like many logic games, this toy is technically for one player, but I would suggest that two or three could collaborate on solving the challenges. As I usually suggest, it’s good to go through the challenges in order as the easier puzzles build up skills that are useful in the more advanced ones. Of course, my daughter did not follow this advice; after doing a challenge in each section with some considerable trouble, she went immediately to the last one…

Though I found this particular product on Amazon, there seem to be a lot of other versions out there with slightly different names, so you can definitely shop around.

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!