Category Archives: Problem Solving

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

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.)

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


Think Like a Coder

TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom.  These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students.  You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords.  Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.”  Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)

If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals.  Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.”  It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room.  Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination.  The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.

Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t.  It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding.  If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given.  This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.

Circuit Board Brain
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The Social Distancing Puzzles

Yesterday’s post, which was about finding creative ways to make Zoom (or any online conference) calls fun, was a nice lead-in today’s shared activity. Eric Berlin, puzzlemaker extraordinaire, (see my Puzzlesnacks post for more info) came up with an ingenious idea that adds a twist to social distancing while earning money for charity.  When you use the form linked on this page to donate to Feeding America, and then provide a screen shot of your receipt, you will be e-mailed two sets of eleven puzzles in PDF form.  Choose a puzzle partner to give Set A or B to, and you will work on the other.  You can do some of the puzzles independently, and others will need collaboration.  The combination of puzzle answers from both sets will be needed to solve the final puzzle.

I haven’t done all of the puzzles, yet, but they look like they are probably suited for teenagers and up.  With your two sets of challenges comes a third file of hints and solutions.  For more information about Feeding America, you can visit this page on their website.  However, be sure to go to Eric Berlin’s page through this link so your donation will be correctly allocated.

Word Puzzle Grid
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Chess Resources

A friend of mine asked for some chess resources to use with her after-school chess club (elementary-aged), and I thought I would share the ones that I was able to curate.  If you have any other suggestions (other than sites where you can play chess online), please comment below.

The game that I like to use to introduce how the chess pieces move is Tic Tac Chec.  I just did a search on my blog, and I can’t believe that I’ve never posted about this game before.  I used to use it with my Kinder and 1st graders all of the time, and they quickly picked it up.  The game board is a wooden 4×4 grid, and the two players each get 4 different chess pieces, one of which they can place or move during their turns.  The object is to get 4 of your pieces in a row.  If you are captured, you can use your next move to put your piece back on the board.  It’s fun to watch the students keep capturing each other, and finally realizing no one can win if that’s all you do!

Solitaire Chess is another game for practicing chess movements without playing the actual game.  This one-player game offers scaffolded challenges that show pictures of a 4×4 chess board set up with some pieces.  Your goal is to figure out how to move the pieces so that only one is left.  Each move must be a “legal” capture.  You can also play Solitaire Chess online (make sure you have Flash enabled on your computer), and there is a video tutorial.

Here are some other online chess challenges:

UIL Texas has this printable packet of mini-games for teaching chess.

For videos, don’t forget the inspirational one, The Magic of Chess, that I shared a couple of weeks ago.  Also, Kids Academy has a series of animated videos on YouTube, beginning with Getting to Know the Game.

Want to use chess for an integrated lesson, where students design their own chess pieces and/or boards?  This is a great lesson plan from Scopes-DF.

If you aren’t convinced of the educational benefits of teaching chess to young children, this article may help you to learn more!

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash