Category Archives: Problem Solving

Cardboard Mini Golf

I am a recovering control freak/perfectionist.  So, when my students work on projects for #cardboardchallenge, it takes every ounce of restraint to not turn into a raving lunatic.  Nothing goes as planned; in fact plans are pretty much a waste of time.  My classroom looks like an episode of “Hoarders,” and I find duct tape hanging off of my clothes for months afterwards.

I constantly tell my students that empathy and mistakes are part of the design process, but it turns out I should be lecturing myself more than them.  While I watched over the mass production of cardboard miniature golf courses this year, I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t be disappointed that my students’ visions were completely different than mine and that it’s not very encouraging to have a teacher keep telling you, “That’s not going to work!”

During the entire week leading up to our first project “reveal” at a school festival, I worried that it would rain.  On the day of the festival, bright sunshine greeted us – along with hurricane-worthy gusts of winds intent on adding the extra challenge of giving us moving targets as we ran around the basketball court chasing our golf courses.

The tech enhancements we had made for a few courses disappointed because they kept getting disconnected or weren’t loud enough to make people “ooh” and “ahh.”  Some students abandoned supervisory shifts of their courses to go play elsewhere, and one group took an hour to get their course working because one of the students had a picture in his mind of what it should like that none of the rest of us could understand, and he wouldn’t compromise.

I am not telling you this to complain or to discourage you from attempting a similar project.  I like to be honest on my posts, so people don’t get blindsided by obstacles when they decide to try out a “good idea.”  The question is, was this a good idea?

After we put some weights on the courses to keep them in one place, and students began to stream over to try out swinging the putters, I saw a lot of smiles.  I heard a few students talk about how proud they were of their work, a few who mentioned some adjustments they wanted to make, and a few who already had ideas for next year.  Some students took extra shifts to make sure their courses could stay open, and there were many kids who would try a course and then get back in line to try it again.  In other words, kids were having fun.

I had told the students this was our first big “test” of the courses, because we are hoping to take some to a S.T.E.A.M. Festival in December.  To be honest, though, it’s tempting to forget about that – just clean everything up and move on to other projects.  I am desperate to get back to some semblance of order and leave the chaos behind for awhile.  Fun was had, lessons were learned, so let’s call it a day, right?

But Design Thinking isn’t about giving up.  So, next week we are going to reflect on peer feedback, discuss improvements that can be made, and continue to make messes that will create knots in my stomach, but that I will accept as part of the process. We are going to move those projects from good enough to great.

But first I need to buy a lot more duct tape…

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Futoshiki Puzzles

These online Futoshiki Puzzles were created by KrazyDad (you can find puzzles of all types on his site here).  The puzzles are similar to Sudoku and KenKen in that you are trying to place numbers in a matrix using logic without repeating digits in any row or column.  The twist is that Futoshiki puzzles provide clues using the inequality symbols for less than/greater than.  Your clues are in comparing boxes that are on either side of the inequality to determine which digits would logically work.

You can do Futoshiki puzzles online here.  Or, you can print out the pages provided by KrazyDad here.

Jim Bumgardner, the man behind KrazyDad, provides practically unlimited puzzle game fun on his site, so once you get worn out on the Futoshiki puzzles I recommend you try some of his other unique puzzles.

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image from Wikimedia

Critical Thinking Cheatsheet

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation has a page of resources on its website that includes the free Critical Thinking Cheatsheet.  The downloadable PDF has excellent question stems that students can use when trying to analyze a topic more effectively. You can see a sampling of the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions stems in the image below.

You will need to register on the site before you can receive your download.  However, there are several other free resources that you can also access once you login, so it is well worth taking 30 seconds to sign up.

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from Global Digital Citizen Foundation Critical Thinking Cheatsheet

I plan to give this sheet to all of my students so they can use it to understand current events better.  A great site this could be “smashed” with is Newsela.

Dot Day 2017

It’s almost September 15th-ish, which means that Dot Day is quickly approaching!  For those of you who have not encountered Dot Day before, it is an international event inspired by the Peter Reynolds book, The Dot. It’s all about celebrating creativity and “making your mark”!  In last year’s post about Dot Day, I shared a few “new to me” Dot Day ideas for the celebration.  This year, Breakout Edu has announced a brand new breakout adventure for elementary and middle school students based on The Dot. Students must solve the clues to set creativity and inspiration free. I recommend doing the breakout activity and then giving your students the opportunity to unleash their own inner artists as a follow-up!

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image from Denise Krebs on Flickr

Terry Stickels

Do you crave brainteasers?  Do your students delight in them?  (Many of my students do!) Terry Stickels is a world-renowned puzzlemaster who has published several diabolical books of challenges and authored weekly puzzle columns in many newspapers.  You can find out more about him here.  One type of “stickler” that has made him famous is called, “Frame Games,” which are like rebus puzzles, but placement and size of the text give clues as well.  For example, the picture below would translate as, “I understand.”

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On the Terry Stickels website you can find many free brainteasers, including a series of “Frame Games.”  There are coin puzzles, variations on sudoku, and several other types of challenges.  Some can be downloaded in tremendous zip files, and others are meant to played online.  Whenever you are looking for a way to pass the time, (such as during the summer break) and still exercise your brain, this is a resource you should definitely consider!

 

Turing Tumble

It has been awhile since I’ve succumbed to my Kickstarter addiction, but felt the need to place a pledge last night for “Turing Tumble: Gaming on a Mechanical Computer.”     The good news is that the project has already far surpassed its funding goal, and there are still 27 days to go in the campaign.  The bad news is that the projected date I will receive it is not until January of next year.  Turing Tumble looks like it will be a great addition to my classroom.  Because marbles!!!!  And logic puzzles in a comic book!!!!  And learning the basics of how computers work!!!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out their Kickstarter page, which gives a very thorough explanation (better than mine) and video of the Turing Tumble in action.

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Check out the Turing Tumble, invented by Paul Boswell (above) on Kickstarter!

Clothesline Math

Chris Shore is quick to note that he did not invent Clothesline Math.  However, he is the author of the Clothesline Math website, and producer of many of the materials on the site, so I think he definitely deserves some credit!

When I first ran across this site, I was a bit dubious of the value of a Clothesline Math activity.  Basically, the teacher gives out a set of number tents to students, who then must hang them on a clothesline (which represents a number line).  However, once I watched Shore’s video explaining how he introduces Clothesline Math, I realized how this seemingly simple activity could really start some incredible math class discussions.  There are many decisions students need to make when they determine what benchmarks to use on the numberline, the order to place their numbers, and the amount of space in between.  Even with a set of 3 fractions (1/2, 1/3, and 1/4), you could take up an entire class period.

Shore provides different sets of printable numbers (from various math disciplines) and an answer document on his site.  Of course you can DIY with your own supplies and number sets based on whatever you are studying in math class at the moment.

I like the idea of students reasoning through this, and having to justify their responses.  It can also be a great visual and kinesthetic activity that will be much more meaningful that choosing from multiple choice answers on a worksheet.

For more intriguing math sites, take a look at 15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.  Let’s get our students excited about math!

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image from: MaxPixel