Second Grade Enrichment Math: Strategic Thinking with Blokus, Othello, Qwirkle, and Izzi

As we roll along in second grade strategic thinking, we have learned several new games.  First, we played the game Blokus.

Blokus is a two- to- four- player game where each player is assigned a color and 21 game pieces in that color in different geometric shapes.  The goal of the game is to put as many of your pieces on the board as possible.  The trick is that all of your pieces need to touch one another, but only at the corners — none of the sides may touch sides of pieces of the same color, and none of the pieces may be free-floating.

True Blokus-devotees know the official names for the pieces, so I provided the kids with a cheat sheet to help them learn the names:

We then discussed strategy.  I gave the kids the following strategic tips:

  1. Play toward the center.  Since you want to cover as much of the board as possible, start by claiming as much of the board as you can by placing your pieces in a line angling toward the center.
  2. Play your biggest pieces first.  You should play a five-square piece if you can, unless you have a strategic reason why a smaller piece makes more sense (and usually you don’t have such a reason).
  3. Block your opponent from moving into your territory.
  4. Save your one-square piece for as long as you can, and use it to jump into another area if at all possible.

Then I set them loose to play.  One of the great things about Blokus is that it’s often easy to see who is winning just by glancing at the board from across the room.  It’s easy to tell who is working toward the center, and who is playing their biggest pieces first.  Kids who play Blokus with their pieces all in a pile clearly aren’t paying attention to what they have or thinking about their next move(s).

The kids were divided about the game.  Many of them loved it, but an almost equal number were frustrated and found it more difficult than they expected.  They forgot to try to anticipate their opponents’ moves and were upset when the moves they planned to make wound up blocked.  It was a good lesson in considering not just your strategic moves but the moves of your opponents as well.

I highly recommend Blokus for play at home.  You can buy it on Amazon here and the free app is available here.

The next week, we learned to play Othello (also sometimes known as Reversi).

Othello is a game played with colored chips.  One player uses the white chips and one player uses the black chips.  To make a move, you need to flank at least one of your opponent’s chips with two of your own.  The chip(s) you have flanked then turn to your color.

We were focusing on a strategy we called “lose to win.”  At the beginning of the game, players are often tempted to flip as many pieces of possible.  They see that their color is dominating the board and feel assured that they will win.  In reality, the best strategy is to focus on making sure you have multiple moves available to you.  To do so, it usually makes the most sense to make small moves (where you flip only one or two pieces) rather than bigger moves (where you flip multiple pieces).  I could hear the kids muttering “small moves, small moves” as they played.

When playing Othello, the corners are crucial because they are stable (they cannot be flipped to another color).  We were also trying to pay attention to the corners and making sure not to make moves that allowed our opponents to capture the corners.

You can play Othello online here.  There’s also an Othello app.  You can find it here.

The following week, we learned to play Qwirkle (which most students were already familiar with).  Qwirkle is a game of color and shapes.  Players try to build shape lines, made up of all one shape in the six available colors, or color lines, made up of all six of the available shapes in one color.  Lines build off each other in a grid.  A complete line is called a Qwirkle, and playing a piece to create a Qwirkle earns a player a six-point bonus.

The kids sometimes had trouble making sure pieces had at least one element in common with all of the adjacent pieces, or remembering that Qwirkle lines are complete and no further tiles can be added to those lines.  Overall, though, they picked the rules up quickly and had a great time playing.

You can play Qwirkle online here.

Today, we played Izzi, a deceptively simple puzzle game.  Izzi consists of a set of 64 black-and-white patterned tiles.  The object of the game is to create an 8 by 8 square using all of the tiles.  This is much more difficult than it sounds!  We started off playing “Mini Izzi,” using 8 tiles to make a series of shapes (a line, a diamond, a fish).  Then the kids worked in groups to attempt the large square.  No group finished, but many of them came very close!

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First Grade Enrichment Reading: Advertising Techniques and the Z Form

This week and last in first grade reading, we spent some time analyzing print advertisements.  I gave each student a full-page magazine advertisement.  Then, I explained the Z form to them.  The Z form theory posits that, if you learned to read left-to-right, your eyes will scan over the page from left to right in a Z formation.

Marketing firms use this theory to place ad elements where they will catch your eyes.   At the top there will usually be something to lead your eyes in, then something catchy in the middle, and the logo will usually appear in the lower middle area, to the right.

I used the following ad as an example:

z form adAs you can see, when I placed this Macy’s ad in my Z-inator (a page protector with a Z drawn on it in Sharpie. So fancy!), the ad followed the format to a… well, Z.  At the top they draw your eye in by reminding you that Father’s Day is coming up and dad’s are awesome.  In the middle you see the clothing items you could buy for your dad, and a picture letting you know that hopefully they’ll make him as happy as the chipper dad in the ad.  At the bottom is the Macy’s logo.

The kids then examined their ads for the Z form and we discussed which ones followed the format (spoiler alert:  most did), and which ones didn’t.  We went over the homework sheet, which was to do the same thing at home — find a full-page advertisement and analyze it to see if it follows the Z form.

This week we looked at the ads the kids brought in, and then we used those ads to talk about advertising techniques.  We discussed a list of different techniques, including:

  • Association
  • Call to Action
  • Claim
  • Fear
  • Games and Activities
  • Humor
  • Hype
  • Must-have
  • Prizes, sweepstakes, and gifts
  • Repetition
  • Sales and price
  • Sense appeal
  • Special ingredients
  • Testimonials and endorsements

In class, I gave each student an ad and we discussed which of the ads used which of these techniques.  For homework, the kids need to choose an ad of their own and figure out which techniques were used in the ad.  All of the techniques and their definitions are listed on the back of the homework paper.

Kindergarten Enrichment Reading: Disgusting Critters

For the balance of this session of kindergarten enrichment reading, we will be undertaking a special research project in the library.

The unit uses the Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel as a springboard to talk to the kids about nonfiction books (and other sources) and research.

To begin, we read one of the books in the Disgusting Critters series, The Worm.

worm

All of the books in the series follow a similar format. They introduce the critter, and then tell facts about where it lives, what it eats, and how it reproduces.  The facts are delivered in a humorous tone and accompanied by Gravel’s engaging, funny drawings.

I used The Worm, which we read together last week, to model how to fill out the Disgusting Critter Research form.  We worked together to hunt through the book for the information we needed to fill out the form.

 

Next, I talked to the kids about how to find the form in their Disgusting Critters packet.  After that, the kids chose a critter to research, and began the process of finding out all they could about their chosen critter.  The children worked diligently to fill out their forms.  They asked lots of (relevant) questions.

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I don’t know about you, but a room full of kindergarten students using books to research makes me feel all gooey inside.*

 

*Given that we learned from The Worm that some worms’ habitat is the inside of a human’s or an animal’s body, I feel that I should note that this gooey feeling is not because I have a parasite.  Or at least I don’t think I do!

 

Stay tuned to see how they present their findings!

First Grade Enrichment Math: Shopping for Words

We had so much fun with our penguin activity that last week we embarked on an activity that was similarly challenging — we went shopping for words.  I gave the kids a sheet listing the prices for each letter — A cost $1, B cost $2, all the way up to Z for $26.

The kids had several tasks, and I let them choose which ones to work on in class (though I strongly encouraged them to choose tasks 3 and 4):

  1. Calculate the value of their first and last names
  2. Calculate the value difference between their first and last names
  3. Find a word worth exactly $50
  4. Find a word worth exactly $100
  5. Find the most expensive word you can

The kids spent the entire class busily working to find solutions.  Everyone calculated the value of their first name.  Several students were able to find $50 words.  Once a student found a $50 word, it was considered “purchased” for that class and no one else in the group was allowed to write it down as their own.  No one came up with a $100 word.

Finding words worth exactly $50 and $100 takes a lot of calculations.  The kids should keep trying at home.  If they enjoy it, let them run with it.  If they become frustrated, they should spend no more than 10 or 15 minutes on each problem, and then they should call it a day.

I gave specific requirements for the last problem, the most expensive word.  Onomatopoeia words don’t count, so no coming in with ZZZZZZZZZZZ or the like.  Proper names are also disqualified.  Words need to be real words that can be found in the dictionary.  Long medical names and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are explicitly excluded.

I hope this assignment is fun and not stressful.  If it’s more the latter than the former, set it aside and move on!

Kindergarten Enrichment Math: Fiddle Faddle Flop

In kindergarten math this week, we played a game called Fiddle Faddle Flop.  This is a number guessing game.  The game leader thinks of a 3-digit number with no repeated digits and then the students take turns guessing.  The game leader then tells if each digit is a:

Fiddle:  the right digit in the right place

Faddle:  the right digit in the wrong place

Flop:  The wrong digit in the wrong place

For example, if the secret number is 345

Student guesses 351

The game leader says:  fiddle, faddle, flop

Student guesses 245

The game leader says:  flop, fiddle, fiddle

Student guesses 345

The game leader says: fiddle, fiddle, fiddle

The kids picked it up pretty quickly, though some had trouble remembering to eliminate digits entirely if they had been revealed as “flops.”  We played several rounds and students ran the game at the end.  Some were “fiddles” and some were “flops.”  It can take awhile for the game to be second nature.

Homework was to teach a family member to play Fiddle Faddle Flop and play two games.  I also sent home (after several student requests) a five minute challenge.  The goal is to correctly complete all 100 addition problems in five minutes.  Good luck!

Kindergarten and First Grade Enrichment Math: The Ghost in the Ruby

Last week, I did something I haven’t done before — I taught the same lesson to my kindergarten and first grade enrichment math groups.  My intention had been to use the Ghost in the Ruby activity we did with kindergarten, but when I started working with it, I felt nervous that it might be too difficult.  I decided to test it out on my three first grade enrichment math groups first.

At first, I came to the conclusion that I had been right — it was too hard for kindergarten students.  It was difficult for the first graders!  I was worried the kindergarten students’ heads would explode.  But as the groups went along, I decided to take a chance and give it to the kindergarten students anyway.

I am so glad I did!  The kindergarten enrichment math students did a fantastic job with the work!  They really listened to and understood the directions, and they were off and running right away.

The Ghost in the Ruby is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure book (you’re probably significantly younger than me, so you may not even know what that is, but those books were a huge staple of my elementary school experience!). Each page begins with a clue and then there is a maze to navigate.  Filling in the math at the bottom of the page helps the student proceed through the maze by following the numbers that solve the equations.  Sometimes, though, there are false paths, and you need to turn back.  This is what frustrated the first graders most.  The kindergarten students weren’t nearly as upset at the need to backtrack.  It was interesting to watch.

I gave everybody the first Ghost in the Ruby packet to take home.  I did not write a due date on the packet because it is optional and does not need to be returned.  If your child does not enjoy this work, then let them take a pass.  If, on the other hand, s/he wants to complete the packets, then let them loose to do so!  Each time a child completes a packet, I will check it and send home the next packet.