Gifts for the Gifted – CoSpaces Edu

 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.

Today is my last Gifts for the Gifted post for 2020. Although my recommendations can be given year-round, I am mindful that it is Christmas Eve, and some of you may be looking for a last-minute gift. That is why I chose a digital subscription for this post. I reached out to CoSpaces, and they graciously offered a discount that is valid until Jan 17, 2021 and grants a 15% discount of any online purchase (new plan, added seats, added MERGE Cube add-on) once per license plan. The discount code is COSGFGPROMO (not case sensitive).

CoSpaces Edu is a design space that makes it easy to create Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality experiences. While you can drag and drop items onto a scene, the real fun is when you implement some coding to make it interactive. You can use additional accessories, such as Google Cardboard or a Merge Cube (with a Merge Cube license add-on) to view creations, but students also enjoy viewing each other’s designs on regular screens.

Our school had a grant to use CoSpaces last year, and I used it with 4th-6th graders. 4th and 5th graders made holiday scenes, “Gratitude Museums,” and interactive snow globes (similar to this one by James Knight). 6th graders were building amusement parks, and coding skateboarders up and down ramps through city streets. They were also all able to import Tinkercad designs into their projects. Spatial reasoning, problem-solving, and design thinking skills were all high-level and I was impressed with the students’ creativity on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I don’t have their project links any longer, but you can view the snow globe link above, and the Gallery for examples.

Once students create a design, they can share it publicly. Viewers can use the link on a laptop or desktop computer or on a smart mobile device. They can stick their smartphone in Google Cardboard, and immerse themselves in the scene using virtual reality. Or, if the scene has been designed for Merge Cube, they can aim their mobile device at the Merge Cube and see an augmented view, such as opening a gift.

There is a basic plan for CoSpaces that is free, so you may want to try that out before committing to a subscription. The lowest annual subscription plan – for 1-5 licenses – is $74.99 (around $64.00) with the above discount, but it includes all assets (and there are a ton) and coding blocks. If you are a teacher, you will be happy to know that there is a dashboard. You can use that to send out assignments as well as view student projects.

CoSpaces is great for virtual student exhibits and storytelling. If you have a student who likes Minecraft, coding, or Tinkercad, they will love CoSpaces. For more ideas about the potential of CoSpaces, check out their free lesson plans.

Gifts for the Gifted – Girls Garage

 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.

Before I get into today’s recommendation, I do want to let you know that I will be making one more recommendation next Thursday, Christmas Eve. It will be a digital subscription, so you won’t have to worry about receiving it in time. The price varies, based on the features you want, but the company is also offering a 15% discount code. In addition, I will be giving information on a free class I will be teaching involving this surprise. So, be sure to tune in next week for the final edition for the 2020 Gifts for the Gifted series!

Now, let’s talk about this week’s great gift! I actually wrote about this book in June of this year. The full title is, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See (Teenage Trailblazers, STEM Building Projects for Girls). The book is written by Emily PilIoton, who founded Girls Garage in California in 2013 with the mission to empower young women from ages 9-18 to design and build. Girls Garage is full of practical advice for using tools and regular maintenance activities that most of us encounter as we live our lives, in addition to instructions for fun building projects.

As with most of my recommendations, this is the kind of gift you should use with the recipient. If you just present the book with no follow-through it will likely sit on a shelf collecting dust. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to put it in a basket with the supplies for one of the projects that you could do together. And if you don’t know a lot about using hand or power tools, that’s even better. Kids love to learn with adults, and it’s a wonderful way to model how to handle problem-solving and mistakes.

Some of you may be asking whether or not this book is suited for boys, given the title. In my opinion, the content is great for anyone who is not used to working with tools. There may be similar books out there that don’t address a specific gender. Yes, I would give it to my own son if I had one – along with his first power drill. However, you will ultimately have to be the judge about whether or not the person would appreciate this gift.

Amazon has made enough money this year, so if you can purchase Girls Garage from Bookshop or directly from your local independent bookstore, please do what you can to help them out!

Gifts for the Gifted – Chicken War and Domino Maze

 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.

Today’s Gifts for the Gifted entry is a guest post from my friend, Emily Mayes. She and her three children are the perfect sample group to review Thinkfun games. Although my family, students, and I have always been a big fan of Thinkfun (as you will see from previous Gifts for the Gifted posts), my retirement from the classroom last December prompted me to seek some other expert opinions!

“My three kids (ages 15, 12, and 8) have been playing Thinkfun games since they were in preschool and they are some of our favorites.  We recently tried out Chicken War and I was impressed that all three ages really enjoyed it. That can be difficult to find in a kid or family game! It does take some time to go through all of the rules and they can be confusing. We had to reread the instructions a few times and refer back to them as we started the game. But by our second game the next day we were old pros. 

Chicken War from Thinkfun Games

The game starts out with you having to choose a leader for your ten chicken army and while that may seem easy to younger players, older players will understand they should put thought into choosing as the first army with all matching chickens wins. The leader has to share two, and only two, characteristics with the rest of the chicken in their army. You can either infiltrate an enemy army, steal a chicken, or lob an egg at an enemy chicken you think may be their leader. That is how the strategy and planning are involved. My older two kids really enjoyed that part of it and did better ultimately than their younger brother who was more concerned with just his army and not paying attention to the other player’s armies. My oldest won both times and wasn’t a fair match to my youngest who really loved just matching the chickens and “lobbing” chickens when he could. Everyone really enjoyed it and we have reached for it again. 

The next game we tried out was Domino Maze. This is a solitary game -which we like to have on hand for when one child is bored but others are preoccupied. I am always on the hunt for games that increase their problem solving and critical thinking skills and really hone in on executive functioning skills. Domino Maze was another game that kept all three kids engaged and happy.

Thinkfun Domino Maze

 My oldest started with the more difficult challenges in the book while my younger one started from the beginning. The challenge book starts at beginner and tells the child which game pieces are needed for that particular challenge. Unlike some of the other Thinkfun solitaire games, your child will know if they did the challenge correctly if the dominoes fall the way the challenge indicates. However, the challenge book also gives correct answers if needed. My two oldest stuck to the challenges but my youngest started making his own creations and own challenges. I love that the game is so open-ended that it should keep kids of all ages busy and happy for quite some time. My 8 year old said, ‘I love that it comes with a staircase and a blocker that makes it more challenging. I liked playing with the staircase-  trying to make the dominoes go up and down!’ ” ~ Emily Mayes and her Superstar Family

Thanks to Emily and her family for their reviews! Both games sound like tons of fun. Who wouldn’t want to lob eggs or topple dominoes? Also, don’t forget you can always go to the Thinkfun home page to access resources for parents and educators that will take learning and games to the next level.

Gifts for the Gifted – Codenames

 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.

I was a little late to the Codenames party, just having gotten it about a month ago. In fact, I was so late that I ordered the Codename Duet version because our daughter had just left for college and it was just my husband and I at home. Though the rules are slightly different for the 2-player version (you are playing cooperatively instead of against each other), the premise is the same. A grid of cards is set out on the table and another card lets you know which of the cards are “secret agents” that are your allies. You need to communicate with your team member(s) with clues to help them find the friendly agents. The constraints are that you can only give clues that have one word and a number, and that you do not have enough turns to use one word per agent – so you need to find ways to connect a couple or more of your agents with one defining word. The number you give is how many cards that word describes. So, if I say, “corn, 2” that means you are going to look for two cards in the grid that have something to do with corn.

The first couple of times that my husband and I played, we failed royally. In the Duet version, each card is a random word (some of the versions, like Disney, use pictures), and trying to find connections between some of the words was quite a stretch. But we started to find our groove and felt pretty good about it. Then we took turns playing with our daughter when she came home for the break, and we won practically every time.

Codenames is a game that really encourages productive struggle in a fun way. It reminds me of an activity we used to do in the gifted classroom called, “Forced Analogies.” According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, one of the characteristics of intellectually advanced young people is, “an ability to relate a broad range of ideas and synthesize commonalities among them.” This skill may come easily to some, but I believe it can also be developed with practice.

I saw at least 7 different versions of the Codenames game on Amazon, including Harry Potter and Marvel editions, so you can not only find something that appeals to your family’s interests, but also add more once you realize how much fun it is. And there is apparently this free version that you can play online – inviting people to your Codenames room. (I have not vetted this, so proceed with caution!)

Codenames is a great game for home or in the classroom. Pick out an edition that appeals to you, and enjoy!

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 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.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.

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.