Monday, February 22, 2016

Lure of the Labyrinth and Mathpickle

I'm puzzled why it has taken so long for me to hear about these two resources. Seriously, folks, have I not been immersed in elementary-age math activities for the last several years, trawling through other people's favorites lists and doing my own searches? How could both of these have been (until now) undiscovered gems?


Going beyond the silly name, this is a site with fantastic games, puzzles, and comments about learning and teaching math. The site is well structured and almost every link is a gem, so it will be easy to find worthwhile material. If you need any extra help, just try Games organized by Subject.

Note: at mathpickle, don't get caught worrying too much about "grade level" labels, especially don't skip things you think might be "too young" for your student. Once they have the (minimal) knowledge to get into an activity, there is usually no ceiling blocking further or deeper exploration or understanding.

Little Bit of Aggression: Part of J1's curriculum while at home sick last week
Some quotes/philosophy
Mathpickle is the work of Gordon Hamilton who aims to "get curricular unsolved problems into classrooms worldwide – one for each grade K-12."  This might remind you of the interesting post by Lior Practher from last september: Unsolved Problems with the Common Core.

Gordon's comments about board games strongly resonate with me:
A small fraction of games work well in the classroom. They must be resilient to damage and loss. They must be easy to teach and quick to play and put away. In the classroom budget, they must compete against cheap electronic games. 
A large fraction of games work well at home – that’s why parents must take the lead on establishing a culture of board gaming.  
Somewhere on the site, Gordon mentions that he is now developing some educational apps; I'm keen to see what he creates!

Lure of the Labyrinth

Gordon also has great taste in other resources, some of which are listed in his collection of Inspired People.  Within this sub-site, he has very high praise for Scot Osterweil's Lure of the Labyrinth.
The two older Js and I have been playing and are hooked.

Inside is a game world with a set of challenges related to a running story and a collection of (at least) nine different puzzle/game types that develop a range of mathematical ideas.

Some of the cool things about this game:

  1. Fun challenges that get harder in interesting ways
  2. Cartoon monsters and an interesting story context
  3. The minimum of exposition. Challenges are not really explained, so you get to experiment to figure out what is going on. The designers found a great middle ground between "I know exactly what I need to do" and "I have no clue." Something on the order of "I know I can try these things, but am not totally sure what will happen."
  4. Navigating around the game world is interesting, in and of itself. I was particularly delighted by the lay-out of the "triangle" wing (the last wing of the factory you unlock).
  5. The game basics are high quality: good graphics, background music, interface
  6. Free!
You have no idea what this is, but will be able to figure it out!

A classic puzzle with some gross-out twists

A minor, minor, nit:
In case the game designers ever read this.....

First, thanks so much! We love the game and really appreciate all the time, effort, and attention that must have gone into creating it.

Second, go back and read those previous two sentences again!

Third, well, since you persisted in reading this far . . . the number of actions allowed in the Managers' Cafeteria is a bit mean. As illustrated in the screen cap above, you have 12 actions to correctly specify and place 12 orders. That means no mistakes are tolerated, not if you mis-enter a serving size or accidentally forget to change the type of food. We understand that mistakes require a redo in other challenges (mineshaft, gardens, advanced testing labs) but:
  1. none of those require the same shear number of clicks as the Managers' Cafeteria
  2. It feels like a large number of clicks in MC are committed (they lock you into a path without possible change) while far fewer in the other challenges are so decisive
  3. Many of the MC clicks are just mechanical, they don't bear on the level of understanding of the challenge.
Our suggestion is simple: add 3 more "lights" (allowed attempts) to MC.

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