Social Studies, spatial reasoning, Teaching Tools

Ukrainian Easter Eggs and Other Cultural Wonders

With all of the heartbreak that accompanies current events also comes the opportunity to understand and honor the brave people of Ukraine. One company, Grabarchuk Puzzles, is doing so by creating visual brainteasers that each give a glimpse of Ukraine’s colorful and magnificent culture. The Grabarchuk family is originally from Ukraine, and hope to garner support for their native country through their unique challenges. You can read more, and see 6 of the challenges selected from their website archive here.

One of the puzzles I found on the main site for Grabarchuk is a Pysanka Puzzle. Pysanky (plural form) are Ukrainian Easter Eggs, and they are quite beautiful. You can see a lesson that integrates a book by Patricia Polacco here. For more detailed information and an art lesson with downloadable templates, you can go here. The site also includes links to galleries of Pysanky and other sources for learning about Ukrainian culture.

Image by Alisa Mizikar from Pixabay
3-12, Creative Thinking, Games, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Asymbol

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) on 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. 

When I first ran across this game, I vacillated about whether or not to include it because you can only purchase it, as far as I know, through one of the company’s independent consultants or from their website. But I kept going back to the page I bookmarked and thinking that Asymbol really is exactly the kind of game I would want in my classroom or for my family to play.

Asymbol comes from a company called, “Simply Fun.” Founded in 2008, Simply Fun is dedicated to creating quality educational games. Asymbol has already won several awards, including the “Creative Play of the Year Award for 2021” from Creative Child.

Image from Simply Fun

As with last week’s Gift for the Gifted, Just One, the concept of Asymbol is fairly simple. There are 47 quality wood game pieces that are spread in the middle of 3-6 players. Each player gets a “Pass Token” that can be used once during the game if they don’t want to assemble one of the words on the card they draw. Cards are shuffled, and players take turns picking a card, choosing a word or phrase from the card, and using whatever wooden pieces they want to try to assemble something that will help the others guess the secret word or phrase. A scorepad is provided, and the correct guesser and the assembler get points. If no one guesses correctly, the assembler can choose to end their turn. (Their is no time limit.) Play is continued for the number of rounds determined before the beginning of the game.

This game champions spatial reasoning and creativity, both of which are hugely important. If you’ve ever had students try to use a digital program like Tinkercad to design 3D figures, you can see how playing this game can be helpful. It’s similar to Pictionary, but has the constraint of only allowing you to use the shapes provided.

Though the game is for ages 8 and up, I think any child who can read could easily play this. One thing that is nice about Simply Fun is that there are individual tabs on the product page to inform educators and parents of the educational skills targeted by the game, and even how the game may or may not work for autistic children. (For example, autistic children who are sensitive about keeping things in a particular order or sequence might not benefit from this game, but it would be good for students who like to construct or build things.)

47 wooden pieces are a lot to keep track of, but there is a nice cloth bag to keep the pieces in, and they are large enough that they won’t be easily lost. The cards and box are durable as well. You could try making your own cards with curriculum vocabulary to extend the game into other subjects. Or, for those of you with 3d printers, you could even add some pieces to the pile. Different age groups can definitely play together, so it does make a good family game.

Asymbol definitely ticks a lot of the boxes for a great classroom center or home entertainment!

Games, K-12, Math, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Genius Square

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) on 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, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

I am linking this product to Toyology, an independent toy store in Michigan, which has a few locations and an online store. Thanks to Kimberly M. for this tip!

This is the earliest I’ve ever begun this annual series of posts, but you know pandemic, supply shortage, blah blah blah… Plus, I’m switching to Mondays because I usually do my Anti-Racism posts on Fridays. Another new change (yes, I know I’m full of them today) is that I devised a bit of a rubric to use with the games/toys. I was always using a sort of mental rubric, and just decided this year to make it visible to everyone else!

I’m starting this year’s recommendations with a game called Genius Square. When I began looking for ideas a couple of months ago, I reached out on various social media channels, and several teachers mentioned that their students love this game. The game can be played by one or two people, and includes two grid boards, two sets of Tetris-like pieces, a set of wooden peg blockers, and a set of dice. You roll the dice to determine where the blockers should be placed, and then try to fit all of your colored pieces on the board around the blockers. With two people, you are racing against each other, but a one-person game is basically just a great way to practice your spatial skills.

If you recall, I wrote an article for NEO on spatial reasoning back in February, and I feel that this is an area that is often ignored in formal education though extremely useful in real life. (Try packing a carry-on suitcase with everything you need so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag on an airline, and you will see what I mean.) Genius Square is a fun way to work on developing this skill, and I love that it has the option of competition or solitary enjoyment. It’s also great because there are often (maybe always?) multiple solutions. And, with all of those dice and grid placement options, chances are you will rarely get the same challenge twice.

I did score the game a little bit lower in the durability area due to the multiple pieces. Parents and teachers know the frustration of lost parts on a daily basis. But it wouldn’t be that difficult to make your own replacements (especially if you have a 3d printer!). In fact, I saw some pics on Twitter of people who were using some pictures they had drawn and cut out due to that issue. I also want to thank Christine Dale (@DaleDaze) for her Tweet about the Mathigon virtual version of Genius Square that you can play.

The lower Extendability score is based on how directly this game could apply to curriculum or real-life. I mean, yes, we use spatial reasoning a lot, but no we don’t often have to pack an exact number of Tetris shapes into a grid. And, I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of strategy involved in the game as there is nothing you can do to keep your opponent from winning except to think faster.

Although the box says 6+ for the age, I think kids slightly younger could play, and I would even encourage it. I also think it’s great for people of different ages to play against each other, as it does not require reading, trivial knowledge, or counting. (You may need to place the blockers for younger children, though.)

I’ll be adding this to my Spatial Reasoning Wakelet. Also, if you are new here, you may want to check out some of my math Wakelets.

Got a toy/game/book suggestions for me to review? It’s not too late! Comment below or email me engagetheirminds@gmail.com

K-12, Problem Solving, spatial reasoning

6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online

I’m back online here in Texas after our week of crazy weather. It’s 74 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny today – and I’m perfectly happy for it to stay that way!

My latest blog post for NEO was published last Thursday while my fingers were still too cold to type on a keyboard. “6 Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online” emphasizes the importance of offering plenty of opportunities to children to learn and develop aptitude in this area. During my 29 years in the classroom I observed that spatial reasoning was often overlooked, but has many extremely practical applications in our everyday lives. I also saw, and was the casualty of, gender discrimination in this area. Though I think physical practice is the best way to sharpen spatial reasoning, I mention many free digital tools that you can use in the article. In addition, I’ve made this Wakelet of over 40 links to games, toys, articles, and websites that support spatial reasoning.

My previous NEO articles have been:  Let’s Talk a Good Game: Mining Talk Shows for Classroom Engagement Ideas, How to Do More with Less Screen TimeHow to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual ClassroomsTop Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com
Games, K-12, Problem Solving, spatial reasoning

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: