Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-5, Teaching Tools

Chat Pack for Kids

As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.”  You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages.  My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up.  We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school.  I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time.  Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.

I’m going to add this to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys.

Chat Pack for Kids
Critical Thinking, Education, Motivation, Parenting

I Just Want to Know Why Joel Didn’t Save the Goat

I despise routine, mundane activities.  My daughter inherited this attitude, unfortunately, so we often find ourselves at an impasse when neither one of us feels motivated to do something that needs to be done.

She rides a shuttle bus from her magnet school each day, and her responsibility is to text me when the bus leaves so I can meet her at its destination.  My responsibility is to keep reminding her to text me so the rest of our afternoon doesn’t turn into angry accusations about who forgot who.

The other day, she actually remembered to text me as she left.  Usually, I try to reward this with a response like, “On my way!” or , “Okay!”  Feeling a bit perverse and bored with always giving the same answers, I decided to text, “ocean,” instead.

“?” she texted back.

I don’t know why I texted “ocean.”  Moms aren’t supposed to do random, unexplained things.  Why did I type “ocean” of all words?  Where did that come from?  How was I supposed to follow that?

“Joel,” I texted next, feeling that I might as well make her think I had gone completely insane.

No response.

When I parked at the school to wait for her bus, I sent one more word – “goat.”

Unsurprisingly, my daughter had raised eyebrows when she finally got in the car.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“You’re supposed to figure out what all three have in common,” I said – as though this had been the plan the whole time.

“They all have o’s?” she asked.


After a few more guesses, she resorted to Google on her phone.

“So, apparently, a guy named Joel saw a goat jump into the ocean,” she said.

“Yeah.  That’s not it, either.”

Google finally rewarded her after she sifted out all of the suicidal goat links.

“They’re all Billy’s!” she exclaimed.


“This is fun!  Let’s do it again!  I might actually remember to text you if this is what happens every time.”

Her last statement penetrated my teacher brain, reinforcing something that I’ve known for awhile but never considered applying to our minor daily Battle of the Texts.

We all enjoy challenges that are in our Zone of Proximal Development.  In fact, they can engage and motivate us.  I observe this daily in my students when they make faces about tough math problems or reading passages – yet beg for more after they’ve succeeded.  It’s why activities like Breakout EDU and the Wonder League Robotics Competition missions are so popular.  These problems are novel and require deliberate thought, but are achievable with hard work.

Many of us struggle with how to motivate our children and/or students.  Rewards seem like bribes, and punishment causes resentment – which is never productive. We want our young people to develop intrinsic motivation instead of becoming eternally dependent on a carrot or a stick.  That ZPD contains the secret. Find that activity that makes them think a little harder, but is within their reach, and their eventual success will make them hunger for the next challenge instead of dreading or avoiding it.

By the way, it has been two days since the first random, accidental text.  So far, my daughter has not forgotten to text me and even, much to her delight, was able to solve one of my puzzles without any help from Google.  Of course, you don’t have to think of your own puzzles like this. Tribond is a game with the same purpose, and there are plenty of resources on the internet that are similar.  If you want something a bit harder, check out “Kennections” by Ken Jennings.

Someone please tell these goats not to jump...
Someone please tell these goats not to jump…
Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Parenting

The Making of the Maker

The Making of the Maker” is an article in Parentage magazine by Sarah Virginia White.  White interviewed 10 young people about the things they make, what inspires them, and how their parents help them.  My favorite quote is from 8-year-old Annabelle Armstrong-Temple,  “The secret sauce is time and space to let kids get creative: a lot of boredism.”

“Boredism” is officially my new favorite word.

My 3rd grade GT students and I were discussing why it gets harder and harder to think creatively as we get older, and how school tends to exercise the part of the brain that looks for one right answer.  One of the students suggested that, to balance out the different types of thinking, “we should go home from school and brainstorm the rest of the day!

I think my student and Annabelle Armstrong-Temple should lead the world.

Starting today.

But that probably wouldn’t work because they would be too over-scheduled to ever have the chance to think creatively again.

The moral of this story is to let kids make.

And to stop letting grownups ruin everything.

Read White’s article and you will find more advice on how to make your very own Annabelle Armstrong-Temple.

If you would like more Maker resources, here is my page of Makerspace Essentials.  I also have a “Make” Pinterest board here.

from The Making of a Maker
from The Making of a Maker by Sarah Virginia White for Parentage magazine
Apps, Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-5, Problem Solving

The Winter Break Survival Guide for Parents

For many families, the second week of Winter Break is when boredom kicks in.  New gifts and games have lost their luster.  No one wants to return to school or work – but lack of structure is beginning to feel less like freedom and more of a chore as everyone tries to find ways to fill up endless hours of do-nothingness.

If the above paragraph describes you, here are some suggestions for making the next week less daunting

  • Winter Break Challenge – For a fun idea that might tear your child away from a screen for awhile, give them a bunch of old board games and let them “re-mix” them to come up with something new.
  • Logical Journey of the Zoombinis – This fabulous game that will teach your child logic and problem-solving skills is available on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.  There is a cost, but it is well worth the price.
  • Apps for Creation – Here are some FREE apps I recommended last year for creation that are still some of my favorites.
  • Makey Makey Something! – If your child got a Makey Makey for Christmas, this post might inspire him or her with some ideas for projects that go beyond the banana piano.
  • Design a Marble Run – Here are 10 ideas for DIY marble runs made from household materials.
  • Build with Slotted Disks – Use the templates to cut out your own disks for building out of cardboard or other sturdy paper.

For more ideas, check out and Design Squad.  Also, don’t forget to read my latest, “Gifts for the Gifted” post for the most valuable present you can give your child.

Your Winter Break Challenge

Education, Parenting, Websites

Gifts for the Gifted – Time With You

Our classroom just received a 3D printer through Donors Choose.  It has been amazing, and I am certain that it will be getting a lot of use for our Genius Hour projects.  During this entire week, I have been planning to recommend this printer in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series because it has impressed me so much.  As you can see, however, I changed my mind.

Today is my last “Gifts for the Gifted” post for this year, and I really wanted to make sure it would be helpful to those who are still searching for the perfect gift for a special child.  And so, I’m going to suggest something that isn’t revolutionary and isn’t very creative; I suggest that you give that child time.


Many will agree with me that time is valuable, and something that seems to slip through our fingers all too easily.  But how often do we consciously make the effort to “be in the moment,” and to show children how important it is to us to just be around them?

I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation that the fastest way to connect with  children is to let them be heard, and to assure them that you are listening and find their thoughts and contributions valuable.  I do this for my students and for my own daughter.  I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of all behavior issues could be traced back to the lack of time an important adult has spent: listening, explaining, playing, and laughing.

How can you give this gift in a meaningful way?  If you are a parent, look at websites like or Design Squad for projects you can do with your child.  If you have some down time during the next two weeks, try my Winter Break Challenge.  When your child does something well, like bringing home a great report card or succeeding in a competition, don’t give him or her money or a trip to get ice cream.  Take your child ice-skating or to play miniature golf.  Learn a language together with Duolingo or go to a museum and discuss the art.  Bake together, read a book with each other, or work on a scrapbook of memorable photos.

This post may come across as preachy, or you might be disappointed because you are looking for something tangible to put under the tree.  But I really can’t emphasize enough the difference it makes when children realize how much you enjoy being with them.  Helping them to realize how much you value them as people can be the most important gift they ever receive.

If you are looking for other gift suggestions, please check out the rest of my “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  Always keep in mind, though, that these gifts make much more of an impact if you enjoy them together.


Computer Science, Creative Thinking, K-5, Parenting, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

Gifts for the Gifted – Dash and Dot

Around this time of year I post a gift recommendation each Friday as part of a “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  The title is a bit misleading, as it might imply that the gifts are only for children who have been endowed with the label, and that is certainly not true. Just as with any gift, you should select a product that suits the interests of the receiver.  These lists of potential gifts that I provide are ones that I feel will be engaging for children who enjoy problem solving and/or creativity.

Our first product in this year’s Gifts for the Gifted recommendations is the lovable pair of robots, Dash and Dot.

Wonder Workshop, the company behind Dash and Dot, knew exactly how to encourage youths to program and create when they put these robots on the market.  They definitely have the cuteness factor wrapped up, and they were designed with so much versatility that will keep imaginative children occupied for a very long time.

Wonder Workshop provides a suite of free apps that can be used with the robots.  “Go”  allows users to start with the basics in controlling the robots. “Path” is a game that can be played.  “Xylo” is for Dash to play a xylophone (a separate accessory), and “Blockly” offers the opportunity to control the robots using block programming language similar to Scratch.

The recently release “Wonder” app presents more complex programming, which a good reader should be able to master by going through the “Scroll Quest” tutorial portion of the app.

In addition to the xylophone designed for Dash, another fabulous accessory pack you should consider adding on is the “Building Brick Connectors.”  Add these to your robots, and you can build Lego costumes for them, chariots, and whatever else you might imagine.

Image from
Image from

Wonder Workshop provides excellent support (one of our Dash robots sadly crashed and they immediately replaced it), and tons of ideas for using Dash and Dot.   The company has a teacher portal with lessons that incorporate the robots. (Full disclosure, I wrote one of these lessons, but did not receive any payment for doing so.)

Currently, there is a Wonder League Robotics Competition in which some of my students are participating.  The deadline for signing up has already passed, but I would recommend downloading the missions that are posted for even more Dash and Dot activities.

Dash and Dot are suitable for students up to about 5th grade.  My 1st and 2nd graders think they are absolutely adorable and treat them like class mascots.  The upper grades also anthropomorphize them.  “Oh my gosh!  He’s so cute!  Look, he’s coming right up to me and looking at me!”

If you are purchasing Dash and Dot for home, I would recommend that you play with the robots along with the child.  They will get much more enjoyment with the guidance of an adult.

And you might just fall in love with the Dash & Dot Duo yourself 🙂

For Gifts for the Gifted recommendations from past years, check out this page.