Category Archives: Problem Solving

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

Tumble Together

As some of you know, I have a slightly scary addiction to Kickstarter.  However, I feel like I’ve been pretty good at choosing some winning products to back, which makes my addiction a bit less scary – though not less impactful on my wallet.  The Turing Tumble was one Kickstarter product that lived up to its promise, and I even recommended it for Gifts for the Gifted in 2018.  You can read more about it here.  I have used Turing Tumble with various age groups, and the kids who love it often don’t want to let anyone else try.  Put that together with, well, Covid-19, where you don’t exactly want to encourage people to share their toys, and you might have a bit of a challenge playing this game.  This is where the recently launched site, Tumble Together, can help out.  Tumble Together is a Turing Tumble simulator (say that 10 times fast).  You can mesmerize yourself by moving the pieces and dropping the marbles to your heart’s content.  You can even click on the menu to do 30 different challenges.  But the best part is that you can open your own shared room and invite your friends to work on it with you!  Without worrying about germs!

Turing Tumble – it’s a game, it’s an education, it’s a plethora of conundrums.  Check it out.  And, don’t forget that Turing Tumble offers Educator Resources here, including discounts on the physical game which is a delight.

Tumble Together
Click here to go to Tumble Together, a Turing Tumble simulator that allows you to invite friends to play!

Which Door Will the Ball Hit?

The Kid Should See This tweeted the link to this great video, “Which Door Will the Ball Hit?” so I think it’s only fair to send you to their link to read more about it.  I adore this idea from Joseph Herscher of using Rube Goldberg-type machines to make video puzzles, and I think it would be an excellent “hook” to show students before asking them to design their own.  To get some practice before they design their first prototypes, they could play the Bubble Ball app, Goldburger to Go, or this game on Engineering.com.

You can also view more of my Rube Goldberg posts here.  And, if your students enjoy puzzle videos, the TED Ed riddle videos are great.  (My students were big fans of the River Crossing Riddle.)

Dominoes
Image by SparrowsHome from Pixabay

One-Hole Punch Puzzles

I am so not proficient when it comes to spatial reasoning.  This makes sense to me because I can’t think of ever really practicing it as a child.  I didn’t build with Legos or blocks, and I wasn’t really into jigsaw puzzles.  Mostly, I read a lot.  That means I’m generally a decent speller, but when I try to sew a face mask you will have to turn it right side in to make it right side out.  Or something like that.  Let’s just say my very un-straight stitches are very visible on the side of the material that you would normally want people to see.  And, yes, that is with a sewing machine.

So, as I spend the second half of my century of life trying to visualize what comes naturally to everyone else in my family, I would like to re-iterate that spatial skills are pretty important, and aren’t really a big focus in most schools.  Regular readers will know that this isn’t a new theme on this blog, and here are some past posts that I’ve done with other great resources: Spatial ReasoningSpatial Puzzles, and a bunch of reviews of apps and games.

Today’s spatial reasoning resource would have been so fun to do with my engineering students.  It comes to us from Mark Chubb (@MarkChubb3), who offers these One-Hole Punch Puzzles on his blog, Thinking Mathematically.  I’ve seen puzzles like these on some aptitude tests, but usually the questions show how a paper was folded and punched, and you have to select from the multiple-choice the subsequent result when unfolded.  In this hands-on twist, Chubb produces the results, and students have to use their own pieces of paper and one-hole punch tools to demonstrate where the paper must have been folded and punched.

In a pre-Covid class, we could have shared hole punchers and then had a huge confetti party.  Sadly, this may not be an option for any teachers anytime soon, but I encourage home-schoolers, parents, and anyone who can’t sew a mask to give these puzzles a try.

Hole Punch Confetti
Image by Monsterkoi from Pixabay