Category Archives: Problem Solving

BreakoutEdu for the Win

My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes.  I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.

I even tried the Hour of Code with a group.  But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.

It has definitely been a bit humbling.  Sometimes depressing.  Often humiliating.  I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.

Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me.  I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking.  So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.

I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before.  And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)

I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.

As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”

It didn’t happen.

The challenge took them about 30 minutes.  Nobody fought.  Nobody gave up.  Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.

And no one asked to go to the bathroom.

After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn.  Every teacher should do this!”

But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.

“Can we do this again?” she asked.  “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.

Now. That. Is. Huge.

For my first post on BreakoutEdu, click here.

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Not my students.  But just as engaged.  From Kentucky Country Day School on Flickr
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Gifts for the Gifted 2018 – Turing Tumble

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.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For yesterday’s suggestion, click here.

While yesterday’s gift suggestion could conceivably be used with anyone over 4 years old – and with groups of 2 to whatever – today’s game is a bit more limited.  Turing Tumble is a game I originally backed on Kickstarter, and was excited to finally receive this past summer.  You definitely don’t want to buy it for any child who is still in the “I-see-it-so-I-can-eat-it” phase due to the many small parts.  It’s also not very practical to use with large groups.  You can read my full review here. (It appears that it is currently unavailable on Amazon, but the Turing Tumble website has it in stock.)

So, who should receive Turing Tumble for a gift?  Children and adults who are interested in machines and logical challenges would be the most likely to enjoy Turing Tumble.  I personally think that it is best played with a few family members taking turns with the challenges.  My experience with similar games that could potentially be played alone is that children often give up too quickly.  They need adults to model the perseverance and problem-solving needed – and to cheer them on when they succeed.  Quite frankly, it’s kind of fun for the adults to get some encouragement, too 😉

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image of Paul and Alyssa Boswell with their invention, from Turing Tumble Press Kit

TV Tomfoolery

The final math Digital Breakout that I made for my online students (4th grade Gifted and Talented) for this year is TV Tomfoolery.  In case you have missed the series, here are links to all 5:

You can e-mail at engagetheirminds@gmail.com if you need the answers.  However, I that you consider not getting the answers so you won’t help your students too much.  It’s fun to do some of the challenges as a whole class so you can verbalize your own problem-solving steps with the students!

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Click here to access TV Tomfoolery

 

Kaled It!

I overheard some of my students talking about a cooking show called, “Nailed It!” and decided to make my next Digital Breakout based on that title.  Because we have been having a few glitches with Google Sites in our district, I decided to use Weebly to create this one.  “Kaled It!” is a bit harder than my 1st and 2nd Digital Breakouts.  Therefore, I thought I would give you some of the clues I just posted for my Google Classroom students: Lock 1 can be answered with “The Milk Dilemma.” Lock 2 will be found on “Shopping.” Lock 3 is answered using “Kale Pesto.” If you want to answer Lock 4, then carefully explore the “Meet the Contestants” page.

As with the first two Digital Breakouts I designed, teachers can e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com to receive the answers. (Please put the name of the Digital Breakout in the Subject line.)  However, I agree with the one teacher who told me that she enjoyed not knowing the answers because she didn’t help her students too much!

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Click here to go to the “Kaled It!” Digital Breakout

Feebo, Not Chee

Feebo, Not Chee is my latest attempt at doing a Digital Breakout.  Like the previous one, this one is designed for 4th grade students.  Ideally, they would work on it independently.  The pages are not in the same order as the clues, and there are a couple of links to external sites on this one.  If you are an educator who needs answers to this breakout, please e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com

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Feebo, Not Chee! Digital Breakout Link

Breakout Edu Seasonal Games (Update)

This is actually a repost from last year, but Breakout Edu has changed its format a bit.  In order to access the holiday games, you will need to be logged in (registration is free), and then you can use this link: https://platform.breakoutedu.com/category/christmas-hanukkah-and-winter-holidays There are digital games and physical games included in the collection.

I should probably add Breakout Edu’s Seasonal Games to my “Teachers’ December Survival Kit.”  What better way is there to keep your students engaged, learning, and problem-solving than sending them on a holiday quest?  You can find Breakout Edu games related to December holidays at the above link.

In case you haven’t hear about Breakout Edu yet, here is my first post about the site. Digital Breakout Edu games don’t require the physical equipment (boxes, locks, etc…) that are suggested for the regular games.  Don’t despair if you want to try a Breakout Edu game and don’t have the supplies.  I’ve seen teachers use many creative ways to simulate the boxes and locks with found materials. The students will enjoy working out the puzzles no matter what you use!

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image from Pixabay

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…