3-12, Books, Games, Math

Gifts for the Gifted — Math Games with Bad Drawings

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) 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 ongoing 2022 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students and one for Books for Gifted Children or Anyone who Loves to Learn.

I envision today’s recommendation being given to: teachers who like to engage their students with different games, families who are looking for ways to have fun together away from screens, kids who have a somewhat adversarial relationship with math (as I once did), and geeky people like me who appreciate humor, logic, puzzles, and the surprising elegance of math.

Find Math Games with Bad Drawings here or your favorite local bookstore.

Math Games with Bad Drawings is the third book from Ben Orlin, who is also the genius behind the Math with Bad Drawings website. The book was released in April of 2022 and, frankly, I wish it had been published ten years ago. There are so many ways I would have used Math Games with Bad Drawings in my classroom, particularly when my students did their unit on mathematical masterpieces. It’s not only the games that would be a hit with the students, but the actual commentary throughout.

And, of course, the bad drawings.

As a teacher or a parent, I would set aside time to read this book with children as well as to play the games. Don’t skip the introduction because it’s also quite amusing. (I’m also pretty sure that a lot of the gifted teachers who I’ve worked with will appreciate some of the references to games we’ve played in class with our students. Escher, Fibonacci, and Set all make appearance at the beginning. And wait until you see Quantum Tic-Tac-Toe!) The rest of the book is divided into: Spatial Games, Number Games, Combination Games, Games of Risk and Reward, and Information Games. In addition to the rules for each game and illustrations, Orlin also describes, in many cases: where each game originated, why it matters, and any known variations.

This book is large (in both its length of 368 pages and its physical size), hardcover, and heavy. In the “Conclusion,” you’ll find tables that display the games listed in the book as well as the materials required (mostly pencil/paper), and the recommended number of players. (Most are 2 or 3 player games, though “Con Game” could be played with the seemingly arbitrary limit of 500 people.) The “Bibliography’ at the end is the most intriguing and entertaining bibliography I have ever read in my life. Not that I ever have read any bibliographies in the past, which just goes to show you how good it must be.

Math Games with Bad Drawings is going to have a prized spot on my bookshelf, and I’m pretty sure my family and descendants will never have cause to be bored again. I’m certain all will agree with me that there are infinite possibilities for fun with this book. Otherwise, this once-upon-a-time-despiser-of-math-turned-math-nerd will feel compelled to declare to all,


“I’ll just put on my Star Wars pajamas and sit in my mom’s basement and pore over some spreadsheets.”

Ben Wyatt, Parks and Recreation
Books, Critical Thinking, K-5, Language Arts

Gifts for the Gifted – Guess The Three-Letter Words

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) 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. 

The stats from my blog show me that word games are still pretty popular as people are still regularly visiting my post on different versions of Wordle and my article about the word ladder game, Fourword. With that in mind, I thought I would test out a book called, Guess the Three-Letter Words, Logic Puzzles for Kids, for this week’s gift recommendation.

In recent years, I’ve tried to link to author sites or independent bookstores when I give book recommendations. However, this book seems to be only available on Amazon and does not appear to have an author (listed only as “Learn & Fun.”) When you click on the link for “Learn & Fun,” you’ll be directed to this page, where other puzzle books are listed. I’m guessing “Learn & Fun” books are self-published, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter if they have the content you’re looking for.

In this particular book, there are 100 puzzles, divided into “Easy” and “Hard.” Each puzzle resembles a Wordle, except that these are all 3-letter words and two out of three responses are shown. Using the information you get from those two responses, the solver should be able to figure out the final, correct answer. There is an alphabet grid next to each puzzle, so the solvers can use the process of elimination to help them out. There is also a legend, similar to the one in Wordle, to show which letters are completely wrong, which ones are in the right place, and which ones are correct but in the wrong place.

This book would be good for younger students who are beginning readers/spellers. It’s probably not very challenging for anyone over 8 or 9 years old. However, some of the puzzles do have more than one correct answer. Usually, some of those options are not traditional primary school vocabulary, so as a teacher I would definitely ask students to come up with all of the options to see if some of my high achievers can uncover the more rare possibilities. And, of course, they could then attempt to make some of their own puzzles — possibly with more letters.

This would make a nice stocking stuffer if you know a young wordsmith, or you might want to check out the other books by this company to give a child a bundle they can work on while traveling or when you want them to put away their screens.

3-12, Games, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Asteroid Escape

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) 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. 

Asteroid Escape is produced by “Smart Games,” and if you end up liking this one you may want to visit their site to find others that are similar. Asteroid Escape is a lot like the classic Rush Hour game that you can find in many Gifted and Talented classrooms, with a spaceship and asteroids replacing the traditional cars and trucks. Like last week’s pick, this one is great for developing spatial reasoning skills. But Asteroid Escape comes with a booklet of scaffolded challenges, showing how the game board should be set up at the beginning each time, with the ultimate goal of sliding the pieces around so the spaceship can “escape” the asteroids by sliding down the only exit ramp.

You can purchase Asteroid Escape by Smart Games here.

This game is for 8 years and up. Though it’s technically a one player game, I like to recommend partners — especially a child and an adult if this is the first time the child has played this type of game. Taking turns on the challenges and thinking out loud is a great way to model the problem-solving needed. My 19-year-old daughter and her friend immediately turned to one of the hard challenges to test out the game (which I never recommend because children usually get frustrated and give up). Having grown up with me, my daughter grinned as I chided her, but stuck with it and solved the puzzle. After that, she and her friend were addicted, and returned to it several times over the weekend, commenting that the “ramp is satisfying.”

With a clear plastic dome that you can pop over the top, Asteroid Escape is portable and it’s easy to keep the pieces together. It makes a good travel game, classroom center, or challenge for “fast finishers.” I think it would be a good gift for anyone who enjoys puzzles and is interested in space.

Since I like to find independent toy stores to support when I do these recommendations, I am going to link to “Toys to Love” in Houston, Texas, where you can shop online or in-person. You can also go to the Smart Game website to find a store near you.

Games, K-12, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted — Wooden Calendar Puzzle

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) 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. 

Welcome to my first “Gifts for the Gifted” post for 2022! Today’s recommendation was suggested by a reader of the blog, Cara M., in Kansas. She e-mailed that she uses this puzzle in her K-5 gifted classroom. “I chucked the answer guide when it arrived, and they are currently making their own with photos of their solutions.” 

I love the idea of the students making their own answer guide! Of course, I like to try out each of these recommendations myself, so I ordered one for our house. When I did a search for “wooden calendar puzzle” I found many options, so I opted for the colorful version below. It didn’t even come with any answers, so there was no danger of any of us cheating!

My husband is always intrigued by the spatial puzzles I get, so it was no surprise that he immediately set to work to try to figure out how to position the pieces to show that day’s date. It took him about ten minutes, and he stated that he really likes those kind of challenges.

Of course, one of the fun parts about this is that it’s a different puzzle each day of the year. You may recall that I’ve shared a digital version of this in the past that’s hosted on the Mathigon website. But it’s admittedly more fun to have some tangible pieces to move around.

I like to try to find independent toy stores to link to for my recommendations, but the versions I’ve seen are mostly at Walmart and Amazon. You can also find some on Etsy, though. And if you have a makerspace, you can try to create your own with this 3d printer file and/or lasercut file. There is even a “popper” version of the calendar puzzle that you can order for a bit more.

As you can see from my rubric, this is a good game to practice spatial skills, and has great replayability as there are basically 365 challenges. As for durability, if you order a version with a box or bag, that will help to keep the pieces together. If I was a classroom teacher right now, I would have this as a center or option for early finishers.

Thanks to Cara for the recommendation! For a similar game (also recommended by a reader), check out last year’s post on Genius Square. Tune in next week for another suggestion, and/or click this link to see the archives from past years.

mother and her daughters feeding the birds
K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Experiences

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. 

Way back in 2015, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations was “Time with You.” It bears repeating that whether you are a teacher or a parent the young people you care for, in most cases, really desire your attention more than material objects. This is why I often recommend games that can be played with the family or in small groups in the classroom. Since this post is coming to you so close to Christmas, though, I wanted to let you know of a few possibilities that won’t require package delivery or fighting store crowds. There are some ideas in that post from six years ago, but I have some others you might want to consider:

  • Listen to audiobooks together. You can get a subscription to Audible, or one of the others listed in this article. Or you can check them out for free from a school or local library. I use the free Overdrive app to check out mine.
  • Work on puzzles together — maybe even while listening to your audiobook! (I got this idea from Nick Offerman, who said that he and his wife, Megan Mullally, do this all of the time.) You can do physical jigsaw puzzles, or free virtual ones like these. When my daughter got to be about 8 years old, we started doing puzzles together in my Games Magazine (there is a children’s section), and we still work on some together whenever she is home from college.
  • Travel the world without leaving the house or dealing with pesky luggage requirements. I haven’t tried this yet, but I am eyeing a few of the packages for us for on the Family Friendly page of Amazon Explore, like getting up close with the animals at the Toucan Rescue Ranch in Costa Rica or visiting the fortune-telling chicks of Dei Gratia Farm. And, teachers don’t forget about the virtual field trips you can do with Flipgrid!
  • Geocache! I can’t tell you the number of hours of fun I’ve had with my family and with my students doing this free activity. (The activity is free but you may need to invest in some equipment if you are a teacher, as you need working GPS.) Here is a way to get started. If you are a teacher who needs to stay on campus with your students, a scavenger hunt or an escape room activity can also be great and adapted to be high or low-tech.

I hope these ideas help, and that everyone has a great semester break! I will be back in the new year!

Books, K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Aaron Slater, Illustrator

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. 

Aaron Slater, Illustrator is yet another fantastic book from the writer/illustrator team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. Ada Twist, Scientist (don’t forget you can now watch this series on Netflix!) was a recommendation I made on my 2016 list, and I could really have included all of the succeeding books from this duo in lists since then, but I didn’t want it to look like I was playing favorites 😉 I think that I find Aaron Slater particularly special because the main character is dyslexic, and I have taught so many amazing children with dyslexia throughout the years. At the end of the book, it’s explained that the typeface is a font called, “Dyslexie,” which was designed for people with dyslexia, and the “Illustrator’s Note” explains that David Roberts, too, experiences problems with reading and spelling. Another thing I applaud about this book is that Aaron Slater’s problems don’t immediately get rectified even once he encounters a teacher who recognizes his struggle. I also love that Andrea Beaty named her character after artist Aaron Douglas, who was an African American who contributed largely to the Harlem Renaissance.

As you may know, I am trying to support independent stores as much as I can now on my blog. You can purchase Aaron Slater, Illustrator from Black Pearl Books in Austin, a Black-owned bookstore. Here are some more Black-owned independent bookstores. You can also go to Bookshop.org to search for independent stores.

Book cover of Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty