Tag Archives: Gifts for the Gifted

Gifts for the Gifted – Creative Struggle

 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 this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

I adore the work of Gavin Aung Than.  His Zen Pencils site features illustrations of inspiring quotes, and he has published several books.  This year, he added Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity to his long list of accomplishments.  I enjoyed seeing lesser know quotes in the collection, and felt particularly moved by the “Creative Pep Talk #1” entry.  It illustrates the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and supports my philosophy that we should focus more on the process than the product in education.  “Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing.  The result has become more important than the action.”  He criticizes our desire for fame and lauds anyone who “is a creative human being living anonymously.”

This book would be appropriate for teens and up, or for teachers to use in the classroom with any age.  As I try to convince my students to venture outside of their comfort zones and get frustrated with my own creative attempts and failures, the words of Brene Brown, so well depicted in Than’s book, keep me going:

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

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Creative Struggle by Zen Pencils Cartoonist, Gavin Aung Than
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Gifts for the Gifted – Circuit Playground Express

 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 this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

If you know a child interested in programming who is not quite ready for Raspberry Pi or Arduino, the Circuit Playground Express might be just the right gift.  Adafruit upgraded its original Circuit Playground, which could only be coded with the Arduino IDE, to make a much more versatile development board.  Plug this little guy into a USB port on any computer, and you can immediately use Microsoft’s Make Code website to program Circuit Playground Express with block coding or Javascript.  In fact, the website makes it easy for new programmers to switch back and forth between the two coding options.  Eager learners can then move on to the Circuit Python and the Arduino IDE.

The Make Code site allows users to simulate what will happen on the physical Circuit Playground Express.  Once satisfied, creators can download the program to the Circuit Playground, and remove it.  The Base Kit is a good buy, as it includes a battery pack with batteries, USB cord, and a container.   This makes the Circuit Playground Express a portable electronic device that doesn’t need soldering, breadboarding, or any kind of advanced electrical knowledge.

With lights, music, and multiple inputs, the Circuit Playground Express would be the next step up the ladder from the Makey Makey.   Suggested “makeable” products are listed on the Adafruit product pages for the Express, as well as on the Make Code website.  Because of it’s size and portability, the Circuit Playground Express also makes it a fun choice for wearable inventions.

UPDATE 12/3/18: Rob Merrill has published an e-book course for Circuit Playground Express with great ideas here.

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Circuit Playground Express

(It should be noted that several other beginner products can be programmed on Make Code – most notably the Microbit, which is used extensively in the UK.  I have not used it, so I can’t review it, but it has extensive coverage online with multiple projects and tutorials.)

Gifts for the Gifted 2018 – Laser Chess

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 this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

No gift list is ever complete without one or two suggestions from ThinkFun!  If you search my blog for “ThinkFun” you will see that I have done many reviews of their games.  Periodically, ThinkFun sends me free games to review, but the only ones that appear on this blog are the ones I really, really like!

Laser Chess is a two-player game recommended for ages 8 and up.  If someone teaches them the game, precocious 5 year olds can probably play – though they may be more interested in enticing their cats to chase after the laser beams.  Knowledge of chess is not a prerequisite.  (For a good game to teach chess moves to beginners, I recommend Tic-Tac-Chec or Solitaire Chess.) Although Laser Chess does require similar strategic thinking as chess, the King is the only piece that they have in common.

Players can choose from a variety of game board set-ups in the instruction booklet to begin.  The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s King by directing the laser beam to it.  Each person has several pieces that have mirrors on them as well as some that don’t (to block the laser).  Pieces “struck” by the laser are eliminated.

For a more detailed description of Laser Chess game play, I recommend this blog post.  The only suggestion that I would add is to let the recipient play with the pieces for awhile before playing a formal game.  If you give him or her the opportunity to explore how the laser reflecting works, more time can be spent on strategy during the game.

Oh, and by the way – batteries are included!

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Laser Chess from ThinkFun

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

Gifts for the Gifted 2018 – Disruptus

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!

I originally reviewed Disruptus in February of this year.  At the time, I was teaching K-5 elementary students in a pull-out gifted and talented program.  I am happy to say, now that I have been teaching middle and high school students as well, that this game seems to appeal to players of all ages.  Be forewarned, though.  In general, the older the player, the more time he or she will need to warm up.  Years of being trained to give one right answer has a tendency to discourage wild thinking.  But you will notice a subtle shift if you play long enough – as crazy ideas that might have never been voiced begin to appear in the responses.

In a world where we are finally realizing the value of creativity, Disruptus is an excellent way to encourage unique ideas.  Whether being played in the classroom or at the family table, Disruptus emboldens participants to turn off their filters of practicality. Players must develop innovative ideas based on the cards that are drawn and the instruction on the cube, and “safe” answers rarely win.

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Disruptus 

 

 

Gifts for the Gifted – Compose Yourself

Thinkfun periodically sends products to me for review. When Compose Yourself arrived on my doorstep, I knew that I should find someone with a musical background to give it a test drive.  Our school music teacher, who is also the President-Elect for the Texas Music Educator’s conference, volunteered to try out the game with her class.  Here is Angela Leonhardt’s review.

image from Thinkfun
image from Thinkfun

“I was recently asked by our GT teacher to test out this music-based game from Thinkfun.  What fun my students and I had being the testers!  Although we were using this in our music classroom, anyone who loves music would enjoy this activity.  With 60 different music cards the possibilities for musical enjoyment are almost endless.

How it works:  Once you have signed into the Thinkfun Compose Yourself website and entered the “make music” code provided with the cards you are set to start composing your own music. Each card has a 4 digit number code that you enter.  You can enter up-to 16 cards in your composition. Once you are done you can hear your composition played by a professional marimba player, orchestra or both. 

Here are some highlights from Compose Yourself we found:

  • Very easy to use.  Students in 1st – 5th grade easily used the website and cards with minimal instruction from me.
  • All of the students enjoyed the music making experience and were disappointed when our time was done. A good sign in my book.
  • The students were very excited to hear their finished products.  One group of students wanted to continue the experiment and see what it would sound like if they all played at the same time.  
Compose Yourself 5th Graders
5th Graders using Compose Yourself
  • Price: Reasonable for both teachers and families.
  • We loved the ‘Clear Composition’ feature at the bottom of the screen to quickly set up a new composition.
  • Of course the Free Set-Up of your account is also a big plus. I set up one teacher account for all of my students to use.
  • Bonus:  You can download the mp3 of your composition and the printed melody line.

For those music educators out there who are wondering how this relates to your classroom instruction and standards, never fear.  My initial purpose was to have students ‘play’ with the ideas.  As an Orff Schulwerk teacher the act of play is where the learning begins for me.  I gave my students a quick overview of how to enter the card codes and told them to play, see what happens. What happens if you flip a card or move it to a different place in the score?  They LOVED hearing their compositions in an orchestral setting.  It was very satisfying to them.  With our second experience I provided more structure to their play by turning this into a lesson on musical form and elemental structures. What started as play turned into learning through play. I can also see future lessons on melodic contour using Compose Yourself.  I don’t see my class using this as a ‘notation reading’ lesson at this point.  I could separate out the cards within their reading ability but I think there are other ways to practice this skill.  I’m not a fan of the ‘lollipop’ notes as we call them in my classroom but I’m sure there was a technical reason why the programmers printed the notation this way.  This is a small minus for an overall great program and experience for my students.

My students have been satisfied with the instrument choices because they’ve never heard their ideas in a full orchestral setting.  The website talks about adding more instrumental choices in the future, which would be a bonus but not necessarily an essential in my book.”

 

1st Grader using Compose Yourself
1st Grader using Compose Yourself

For more recommendation in the Gifts for the Gifted series from this year and past years, check out this page.

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Gifts for the Gifted – Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome

With all of the political shenanigans going on in the world today, it’s comforting to know that we have a completely non-partisan president who is more concerned with dancing than making newspaper headlines – Kid President.

Kid President

If you want to give a gift that will inspire and make its recipient laugh, Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome is the perfect book.

KP's Guide to Being Awesome

I first wrote about this book in April, and I don’t think that I can improve on the ecstatic review I gave it back then.  So, I will direct you to that post for more details.

You could also watch this fun promo video for the book, starring Kid President as himself.

Do yourself a favor if you buy this book, and read it along with the child/ren you choose to favor with this gift.  It will be much more meaningful if it’s shared.

There are a few more pieces of KP merch available here if you are interested in pairing your gift with a shirt or poster.

Want some more gift ideas?  Check out my page of links to all of my past “Gifts for the Gifted” suggestions. 

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