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.
The Kid Should See This tweeted the link to this great video, “Which Door Will the Ball Hit?” so I think it’s only fair to send you to their link to read more about it. I adore this idea from Joseph Herscher of using Rube Goldberg-type machines to make video puzzles, and I think it would be an excellent “hook” to show students before asking them to design their own. To get some practice before they design their first prototypes, they could play the Bubble Ball app, Goldburger to Go, or this game on Engineering.com.
Math Art Challenge caught my eye the other day when I saw a tweet from its organizer, Annie Perkins (@anniek_p), about the most recent challenge, “Mandalas,” authored by Siddhi Desai (@SiddhiDesai311). Mandala projects used to be a student favorite in my gifted and talented classroom, and we have created them from all sorts of materials, such as the traditional sand ones and 3d printed ones. The students also loved making digital mandalas, especially using words and kaleidoscopes of nature. When I read Desai’s post, I was blown away by a video she included about the extraordinary mandalas that pufferfish make to attract their mates, and wish I could go back in time to show it to my students.
From the tweet from Perkins, I found that she has a page of Math Art Challenges, with 81 on there to this date! I have always been fascinated by the intersection of math and art, so this collection is a goldmine to me. Since I usually try to give specific resources on my posts in order not to overwhelm, I decided to recommend her challenge from Day 53, “Origami Firework From One Piece of Paper.” This seems like an appropriate challenge for this particular holiday weekend, when viewing a real fireworks show is improbable for many due to the pandemic.
TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom. These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students. You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords. Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.” Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)
If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals. Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.” It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room. Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination. The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.
Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t. It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding. If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a Code.org studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given. This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.
I remember when we moved into our first house together, and my husband casually mentioned something about checking the pilot light on our heater. For some reason, it had gone out, and I was scared to death he didn’t know what he was doing when he brought an open flame near the decrepit appliance sitting in our garage. Fortunately, we didn’t blow up. Sadly for him, that was not the end of my ignorance when it comes to home maintenance.
I’ve tried to make up for what I didn’t learn during my childhood – back when anything to do with tools was considered “the man’s job.” Now it seems like I’m taking apart appliances, drilling something, or sawing almost every week and I play the ignorance card only when it’s a task that seems a bit gross (like changing out a toilet) or potentially life threatening (like fixing the roof). In the last few years, I’ve attempted to get my daughter involved in these projects, but it hit me early this summer that she hasn’t learned nearly enough before she leaves for college. I started hyperventilating as I began a mental list of all of the things she needs to has to know before August.
Girls Garage is a nonprofit organization that runs a physical space in California where girls learn to build. Many of their projects are available here to download. The new hardcover book includes twelve projects that range from building your own toolbox to erecting a stud-framed doghouse.
Also included in the book are simple descriptions of tools, as well as how-to lessons on measurement and handy life skills – like relighting a pilot light. This would have been a super book for me to receive as a gift when I graduated, or even two years ago when I began to work in a maker space that was carpentry heaven.
To be honest, I’m kind of torn on whether or not I’m going to give this book to my daughter or just keep it for myself. A family friend gave her a tool set for Christmas, so it does seem like a good gift to add to her pile of Destination Dorm items. I’m sure I can muddle along like I always have. I mean, I already know most of the contents, like how to patch a hole in the wall (p. 226).
Girls Who Code at Home is the perfect way to keep your young programmer happily engaged while social distancing. So far, I count 14 free activities that can be downloaded, and the site promises a new one will be added every Monday. You can register to be notified each time the page is updated.
The activities range from beginner to intermediate/advanced. Different programming languages are used. Some are even “unplugged” activities, meaning that you do not need to use a computer to do them. Also, although Girls Who Code is an organization that was formed to narrow the gender gap, these resources are available for anyone who wants to use them.
The downloadable worksheets include a lot of scaffolding, so don’t be worried if you and your child/student are new to coding. From making a digital memory book to designing a simple chatbot, you are sure to find an activity that will appeal to your interest and skill level!