Tag Archives: problem solving

Terry Stickels

Do you crave brainteasers?  Do your students delight in them?  (Many of my students do!) Terry Stickels is a world-renowned puzzlemaster who has published several diabolical books of challenges and authored weekly puzzle columns in many newspapers.  You can find out more about him here.  One type of “stickler” that has made him famous is called, “Frame Games,” which are like rebus puzzles, but placement and size of the text give clues as well.  For example, the picture below would translate as, “I understand.”

I Understand.jpg

On the Terry Stickels website you can find many free brainteasers, including a series of “Frame Games.”  There are coin puzzles, variations on sudoku, and several other types of challenges.  Some can be downloaded in tremendous zip files, and others are meant to played online.  Whenever you are looking for a way to pass the time, (such as during the summer break) and still exercise your brain, this is a resource you should definitely consider!


PBS Cyberchase Games

When my Kinder GT class learns about “Scientist Thinking” and classification, I like to use a PBS Cyberchase Game called, “Logic Zoo,” which helps them to understand Venn Diagrams.  You can find that game, and other fun math problem solving interactives for elementary and middle school students on this page.  (You need Flash to play these games, so they probably don’t work on mobile devices.) In addition to “Logic Zoo,” I love, “Pour to Score,” and, “Cyberchase Squares.”

The games are many different levels, so make sure you test them out before assigning them to your students!

Logic Zoo
Screen Shot from PBS Cyberchase game, “Logic Zoo”

A Blocky Christmas

I’ll be adding the “Blocky Christmas Puzzle” to my list of “Logical Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break.”  It’s a fun ABCya page that challenges you to move some blocks around the screen.  I know that doesn’t sound very fun or challenging, but trust me, my description doesn’t really do it justice.  As you move through the levels, new obstacles are added and your own block becomes magnetic – which can be helpful and irritating at the same time.  I love using puzzles like these on the Interactive White Board to talk about Growth Mindset with my students.  They cheer each other on and everyone celebrates when someone solves a particularly difficult level.

I learned about the “Blocky Christmas Puzzle” from Technology Rocks. Seriously.  You can find more holiday interactive by visiting this post by Shannon.  She also has a billion other awesome resources, so you should definitely visit her blog if you haven’t yet.

Blocky Christmas Puzzle
Blocky Christmas Puzzle

Breakout Edu Seasonal Games

I should probably add Breakout Edu’s Seasonal Games to my “Teachers’ December Survival Kit.”  What better way is there to keep your students engaged, learning, and problem-solving than sending them on a holiday quest?  You can find 5 Breakout Edu games related to December holidays on this page.

In case you haven’t hear about Breakout Edu yet, here is my first post about the site.  Also, don’t forget that there are digital Breakout Edu games that don’t require the physical equipment (boxes, locks, etc…) that are suggested for the regular games.  Don’t despair if you want to try a Breakout Edu game and don’t have the supplies.  I’ve seen teachers use many creative ways to simulate the boxes and locks with found materials.  The students will enjoy working out the puzzles no matter what you use!

image from Pixabay
image from Pixabay

Integrative Thinking

I first read about “Integrative Thinking” in this article by Katrina Schwartz on Mindshift.  The article outlines three thinking/problem-solving tools that are taught through the I-Think Initiative at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management: Ladder of Inference, Pro/Pro, and Causal Models.  Integrative Thinking involves using these tools and others to consider solutions for problems by thinking about other perspectives as well as metacognition.

What fascinates me about the examples in Schwartz’ article is that these methods are being taught to students as young as first grade, and the students are applying them in productive ways that could be useful to many adults.  By becoming aware of how our own experiences can funnel our inferences and assumptions, and deliberately trying to reach outside of these, we are able to think more creatively.  It seems like a monumental task, especially for students who are still learning how to read, but it can be done.

You can view an interesting Ted Ed video on the “Ladder of Inference,” embedded within Schwartz’s article, that gives a great example of how we often use the ladder to our detriment.  Teachers who have been trained by through the I-Think Initiative give other examples of how the thinking tools have made dramatic differences in their classrooms.

As we continue to prepare our students for the future, I think that it’s imperative that we teach them metacognition and offer them critical thinking methods that will help them to be problem-solvers who can adapt to the fast-paced world in which they will eventually become the decision-makers.

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/13970275618
image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/13970275618

The River Crossing Riddle

TED Ed recently featured this “River Crossing Riddle” in its weekly newsletter.  It is similar to the “Bridge Riddle” I recommended on this blog last May.  I think it might be fun to act out the riddle in class to help students try to solve it.  When the video is finished, there are some other riddle suggestions that you may want to investigate as well.

River Crossing Riddle from TED Ed
River Crossing Riddle from TED Ed

If you enjoy River Crossing puzzles, here is a link to an online interactive one – and another one here from PBS Kids.

SolveMe Mobiles

I was wandering around the “Would You Rather Math” blog the other day and noticed a tweet from the author (@Jstevens009) on his sidebar about SolveMe Mobiles. “It’s challenging and stokes curiosity,” he wrote.

You don’t have to tell me twice.

I immediately visited the link and spent my lesson planning time “testing” the site to see if it would appeal to my students.  Kind of like the way I “test” all of the cookies in a fresh batch to determine if my family will think they are satisfactory…

Fortunately, most websites don’t disappear after you test them (unlike chocolate-chip cookies), so my students will still find plenty of curiosity-stoking challenges to keep them busy when they try out SolveMe Mobiles.

The games are similar to the Balance Benders series of books, which my students enjoy.  They help you to practice algebraic thinking as you try to figure out the value of each of the shapes on the mobile based on the clues that you are given.  Of course, it starts out deceptively simple, like the one below.

SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1
SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1

Both shapes have a value of 5 since the entire mobile is balanced, and has a total value of 10.

There are 200 challenges, so you will eventually reach ones like this:

SolveMe Mobiles #163
SolveMe Mobiles #163

The online interactivity is fun because the mobile will tip if you identify the wrong value for a shape.  Thank you, SolveMe Mobiles, for this much subtler way to say, “You’re Wrong!” than many other games use.

If you are going to want to record your progress  If your students want to record their progress, they can log in.  Otherwise, there is an option just to play without registering.  You can also build your own mobiles.  Or your students can.  I mean, you probably want the students to do it – but I won’t tell anyone if you do it, too. 😉