‘Fold it’- protein puzzles for everyone.

This blog post is a re-blog of the “‘Fold it’- protein puzzles for everyone” which was originally posted during 2013 on another blog site, which is no longer operational. 

Fold it is an invitation to participate in science everyday. You don’t need to be a biologist or even a scientist to participate in this ground breaking research. All you need is to enjoy puzzles and games.
What started as a way for researchers from the University of Washington to access the hard drive of home computers to help generate more time solving the possible protein folding configurations, has now developed into a very successful, crowd sourced science research project. You can read more about the history of the project here: http://fold.it/portal/info/about, and about some of it’s successes here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/project.cfm?id=foldit-protein-exploration-puzzle,
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=foldit-gamers-solve-riddle and in a journal here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7307/full/nature09304.html.
If you happen to be a biologist, you will be aware that proteins are one of the foundation molecules that make basic cell function possible. Peptides (sub units of proteins) are joined in various ways, following the instructions from RNA. There are many combinations of peptides which lead to different proteins and a range of different functions within cells and organisms. Now, if you happen to be a Biology teacher, Unit 3 and 4 of VCE Biology require students to develop a working knowledge of proteins, their structure and function. One approach to teaching such ‘abstract’ concepts is to use modelling.
There are many modelling tools available to help students conceptualise the structure and function of proteins, these include Toobers: http://www.umass.edu/molvis/toobers/, Cn3D:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Structure/CN3D/cn3d.shtml, bio-molecular 3D explorer: http://www.umass.edu/molvis/bme3d/materials/explore.html, and many resources at the Protein Data Bank (PDB) including the archive of molecule of the month: http://www.pdb.org/pdb/motm.do;jsessionid=D608F408EC87F4494ED671924DD998B8. Fold-it is another tool we can tap into.
Fold-it provides an opportunity for students (and teachers) to be directly involved in ground breaking research. In addition this game may help to develop a better understanding of the rules and nature of protein folding. It is a wonderful example of promoting the use of real life applications within, and beyond, the classroom. It is also a great way of promoting skills like problem solving and collaboration. So, will you and your students come and play?
Until next time,
Fiona T

Tinker tailor: up-cycling, problem solving and learning

This past week I was lucky enough to be able to run a ‘maker movement’ workshop with my students (who are adults training to be teachers 🙂 ). My inspiration came from the following sources, as indicated below in my blurb for the workshop:

The maker movement is gathering traction in the US and internationally: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/28408/maker-movement. It recognises the need to have young people explore technology by taking it apart, finding out how it works and redesigning the technology to make some thing new. There are strong Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) links here that we can harness in schools, either as part of formal curriculum, or as an extension/engagement opportunity. We will be deconstructing McDonalds toys (which can’t go to landfill) and up-cycling them to make artistic posters OR redesigning them to make a new toy/item- It is up to you. Examples: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7675915/Artist-builds-sculptures-from-circuit-boards.htmlhttp://www.sodapopgirl.net/art/disassembly/ and http://www.toddmclellan.com/commercial#5 .

The purpose of the workshop was for them to experience first hand the wide educational potential of an open ended invitation to up-cycle some old McDonald’s toys. Why McDonald’s toys? When my son, Little Tacker (LT) was younger we would have McDonald’s as a semi-regular treat, and very quickly accrued a pile of plastic single purpose toys. When he was about 5 I cleared out his room and found we had heaps, and the problem became how to dispose of them. The toys are plastic and often have batteries in them, meaning we can’t put them into the plastic recycling bins or landfill. So I finally had an opportunity to use them with a class and see how creative we could be.

Unfortunately many of these toys have (what I now know to be) Security screws that need a specialist triangular bit to undo them….and I had bought a few sets of small Phillip’s head and flat head screw drivers for my students to use- Whoops! Fortunately this was only a hiccup for a short time in the workshop and my students were able to problem solve and figure out different ways of opening the toys and re-purposing them. Below are some pictures of the ‘end products’.

Inside a clock work smurfThis was a clockwork Smurf toy- it ‘laid down’ and rotated on a ball attached to it’s feet and would intermittently turn to balance on it’s elbows, then go back to rotating on the ball. After much perseverance the student with this toy was able to break away part of the body and remove the cogs that performed the motion.  The two cogs had different arrangements of teeth which gave rise to the ‘intermittent’ movements we observed int he working toy. This lead to a small group discussion about one of the earliest forms of programming being the Jacquard Loom. A very interesting discussion that created curiosity and a few email discussions after the session too. Inside a pop up toy smurf

This student had a ‘pop-up’ present Smurf, and was able to reassemble her toy as a 3D item to display the inner workings.

Up cycled mobile

This student made a ‘superhero mobile’ – pictured flying over Melbourne 🙂 Upcycled ringA couple of students up-cycled their toys into Jewellery- Ninja Turtle rings anyone?

This workshop was great fun and highlighted an opportunity to engage students in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) experience. It also created a high level of cognitive engagement and curiosity in the group- me included! I have now found the screw drivers we need on ebay – so will source some before I run this workshop again next year. I would like to thank my students for agreeing to let me use photos of their creations and share their stories here too.

Until next time- happy tinkering.

Fiona T

 

 

 

 

 

Healing blade- a biology card game.

This story started in 2011, when I first read about the “Healing blade card game” From Nerdcore in this blog: https://drottematic.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/review-healing-blade-the-infectious-disease-card-battle/.    I began to search for this game, knowing it would probably be too advanced for the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education- Year 12) course I wanted to use it for. Healing blade was developed for Medical students to use as a learning tool- and this is what intrigued me the most, the information within this game wouldn’t be “dumbed down” or incorrect. To me, accuracy is a very important aspect of any game I would want to use as a learning tool.

Unfortunately, the game had a small initial print run and it took me quite a while to find out about the kickstarter movement and track down the print and play version. Late last year I received the newest version of the downloadable file. I was impressed with the quality of the card fronts and really wanted to print these out on card stock for my classes to work with. The months flew by, and the printing of the cards was pushed on down the priority list. Then the sudden realisation that I need the cards for my class this week hit me! So, I have compromised and printed out my card set on a normal photocopy paper. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cutting up the paper cards and backs and sliding them into plastic card holders (Thanks MindGames on Swanston St for your help in sizing the right ones).

Sometimes the work of teaching is ‘making’ the resources 🙂

Healing blade pic for blog

Now the game is ready to play.

Along with 6 other Biology based games, Healing blade will be considered by my students this week, and critiqued as a possible classroom tool.

I hope, in the coming weeks, that I will blog about our impressions of each of the 7 games we will critique, so stay tuned 🙂 (or link the RSS feed to your email, so you don’t miss out!)

Until next time,

Fiona T

 

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 6) Review of Goldiblox and the spinning machine

Hi to all my followers- I’m sorry to say that I have neglected this blog for a little while. It has taken one of my new students this year to prompt me to write again, so I will try to write fortnightly posts about ICT study tools, games, toys and learning. Welcome back 🙂

Here is part 6 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I am looking at “Goldi Blox” story/game that can support creativity and thinking through play. I had seen this in the stores a few times and wondered if it would be a suitable present. In a recent discussion with a colleague, I found that she had the story/game and used it as part of her teaching- so I asked to borrow it.

image

It comes with a story that takes you and your child through building the spinning machine- and is an introduction to belt drives, as an engineering concept. The aim is to make a machine that will spin all of the characters in the book- they are figurines in the box. There are also extra challenges in the book, to continue playing with.The book uses funny rhymes to engage the imagination too.

2015-03-20 16.48.07For the age range stated it is appropriate as a learning object.  I feel that adding just a few cogs and wheels as extra pieces here would serve as a strong extension to the belt drive ideas. This would open up a range of open ended play opportunities and begin to explore gear ratios to get the character figurines to spin at different speeds. I would probably purchase this for a 4 to 5 year old as a present.

There are other a few other games, like ‘mouse trap’ where machines are set up as part of the game, but this is the first one I have seen for a younger age group and with a story to accompany it. I wonder if you have seen any other such items available. If you have, please share them below in the comments 🙂

Until next time

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 5)

Here is part 5 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I am looking at Lego (and similar building style toys, including mega blocks, mecanno, and even the digital space of minecraft) as a toy that can support creativity through play.

The photos above are from a game of  ‘Lego creationary’ (think: pictionary with lego). This game has players make particular items and the other players need to guess the item made – lots of creative fun, competition and open ended play. The other Lego games also encourage exploratory play – games like Heroica, Minotaur, and Lego city police all have starting points for game play and set up, and as you play them more you can adapt the game board and rules to change the challenge level.

Aside from the more recent Lego games, Lego itself is a great open ended play tool. It does come in sets, with instructions to build the item on the box, and then once this is done and played with, the real fun begins. Children (and yes, adults too) can work together to build infinite objects. Today this is classified as a ‘sandbox game/space’ – an opportunity for open ended play where the child can be in charge.  Mecanno is very similar, but uses tools, nuts and bolts  to build machines.  Minecraft is a digital space that now fits this definition  – for a review of this please see: http://appsforaussiekids.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/minecraft-for-parents-part-2-of.html .   After getting used to the controls in Minecraft you can play and build whatever you want.  Playing with any of these alongside and with your child can lead to lots of fun, and learning for both of you 🙂 Setting challenges to ‘build’ – like building your house in Minecraft – can be interesting to collaborate on, as there are lots of problem solving opportunities that present themselves as you work though the challenge together.

So, what ‘sandbox games/spaces’ do you like? How else might you incorporate this style of game/toy to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills? Perhaps you would like to share a picture of your families collaboration in one of these spaces? Please share in the comments : )

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you this breaking news…..New Book Published 🙂 Enjoy

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book Paperback – Taylor & Francis.

Edited by Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton, this book presents a number of case studies of traditional game use in Educational settings across the world.

Chapter 3: Three boys and a chess set is a case study written by myself and Liz Hinds about a traditional game and the 18 month passion based learning project that developed for three boys in a primary school setting. We are very excited to have this story documented and published. I can’t wait to receive my copy of this book, and be able to review the other chapters also.

From the publisher:

“A growing interest in the use of games-based approaches for learning has been tempered in many sectors by budget or time constraints associated with the design and development of detailed digital simulations and other high-end approaches. However, a number of practitioners and small creative groups have used low-cost, traditional approaches to games in learning effectively – involving simple card, board or indoor/outdoor activity games. New Traditional Games for Learning brings together examples of this approach, which span continents (UK, western and eastern Europe, the US, and Australia), sectors (education, training, and business) and learner styles or ages (primary through to adult and work-based learning or training). Together, the chapters provide a wealth of evidence-based ideas for the teacher, tutor, or trainer interested in using games for learning, but turned off by visible high-end examples.

An editors’ introduction pulls the collection together, identifying shared themes and drawing on the editors’ own research in the use of games for learning. The book concludes with a chapter by a professional board game designer, incorporating themes prevalent in the preceding chapters and reflecting on game design, development and marketing in the commercial sector, providing valuable practical advice for those who want to take their own creations further.”

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 4)

Here is part 4 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

Puzzles of any sort are a great challenge for young and old alike. There are puzzles available for any developmental age group. The one pictured above is a mind bending adult puzzle…allegedly (according to the box) it has a number of solutions, however in reality I am yet to find one 🙂 . The challenge is in trying to solve these puzzles, and pushing your mind into creative and strategic modes it may not use otherwise. I don’t think I will find a solution to this puzzle. However, not all puzzles are like this, many have challenging, though achievable solutions.

Jigsaw puzzles are one such type of challenge. The picture/solution is on the box and whether there are 7 pieces or 1000, you can work towards reassembling the picture. The creativity used here will be in the strategy you use to find patterns… Do you pick up one random piece and try and match it to every other piece? Or are you matching shapes, colours, patterns or a range of all three? Do you find all of the edge pieces first and assemble these, then sort other pieces according to colour? Strategy and perseverance are important skills to develop. Leveling up here for adults is easy…there are now a range of 3D puzzles, and also puzzles that contain mysteries to solve within them. I even recall seeing a puzzle with 3 extra pieces!

For younger children the Jigsaws are often smaller,  and there are block puzzles (with different pictures on each side of a cube to match), or puzzles can be cut out shapes on a wooden board. Again,these support the same thinking skills and give children an opportunity to match shapes, colours and find patterns too. They also offer opportunities for hand-eye co-ordination and development of fine motor skills. As children get older, books with jigsaws in them may be an option. There is also the ‘spot what’ range where the puzzle can then be used along side a book to give the child clues.

Then we have word puzzles, and things like sudoku too, yes, I can already hear you thinking…more opportunities to find patterns and develop personal strategies 🙂 . Find-a-words and crosswords use elements of language and cryptic clues for us to ‘puzzle’ over.

Matching and strategy puzzles are also abundant on devices. Since Nintendo ‘game and watch’ in the 1980’s we have been able to have electronic puzzles in our pocket to play and challenge us anytime we want. The Gameboy (and similar)  bought games like Tetris, one of the first electronic puzzle games I played for months on end (getting to the top of the challenge levels and having the little men come out and dance…well it made all those hours worth it somehow 🙂 ) Smartphones and electronic devices grant us access to Apps like Bejewelled, Angry Birds, Where’s My Perry, Quest for Atlantis and my nemesis candy crush, all use puzzles as their main game play option.

So, what puzzles do you like? Have I missed your favourite puzzle type in my blog above? How else might you incorporate puzzles to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills?

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.I was a bit surprised by this ‘bop it’ toy. I had often walked past it in stores and dismissed it as a present option for my nephews, as I had no idea what it was or did. Then, LT was given one as a present and I found out it is actually quite a fun toy and can contribute to both learning and thinking. There are several modes for ‘bop it’ to be used in; individual, pass and play for two or more people, or a two person challenge where you stand one person on each side of the toy. The aim in all these modes is basically the same: the ‘bop it’ toy calls out instructions, and you need to follow them by interacting with the toy. Vocal instructions are accompanied by sounds: “bop it’, ‘twist it”, ‘pull it’, ‘spin it’, or ‘flick it’. Sounds simple, right….wrong!  Instructions are called in different orders, making the thinking and co-ordination required to react quickly surprisingly challenging. As you are able to continue the sequence (we have gotten up to 20 right in a row) it unlocks levels. The different levels include things like the  spoken instruction being removed, leaving the sound to respond to. The next level again will call out colours instead of sounds.  All of these require fast reflexes to be able to stay in the game.

From an educational viewpoint, ‘bop it’ could be classified as a brain training toy. It develops quick thinking and coordination skills, reminding me of the cross marching exercises we use with students.  In terms of creativity, there isn’t much scope for free play with ‘bop it’, however I think it helps make connections within the brain and so would help children to ‘limber up’ towards creativity and reflexive thinking in other areas.

I wonder what other toys are out there that promote creativity, learning and thinking…please add any you think of in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

We love stories in our house. These ‘story cubes’ are a great starter to help children (and adults) create their own stories. Inside this little box are 9 ‘story cubes’ with images that can be used as prompts for your own stories. As a toy it becomes a tool to promote creativity and challenge the story teller to think ‘outside the box’. There are opportunities to work together on a story, or to take turns in creating your own stories, based on the roll of the dice. The inside of the box has hints about different ways to ‘play’ with these cubes. We like to sit around the table and take 3 each, making up a story together. I must say here that WH (Wonderful Husband) lives up to his name during this game, and comes up with terrific tales, scintilating songs and rollicking rhymes, we try to get him to go last because LT (Little Tacker) and I often can’t stop laughing long enough to remember what we were going to say!

These blocks would make a good gift for a primary school aged child. However, if you wanted to make your own version you could draw or cut out pictures of various items and make your own paper cubes to stick them onto. Digital photos could also be used here, and would work as a language prompt for new items or words. This  could be extended for teachers to use in particular topics/themes, with pictures that will prompt students to discuss, explore, extend, and revise their ideas, through the creation of stories.

Do you play story or song based games with your children or family? Do you have a specific tool/toy (eg puppets, books or something else) that helps to structure this play? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, happy playing!

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 1)

I have thought for a while now that I would like to write a series of posts looking at commercially available toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I want to start with some simple, easy to access items that can be used across age groups in a variety of ways. All three items this week would make welcome presents for children, as they can be used in so many ways for a number of years.

Wooden blocks (and indeed lego/megablocks/duplo etc) are a staple in most homes with young children present. I have hung onto these blocks given to LT when he was 1. They get brought out when we have little visitors, and often take a while to go back in the cupboard as LT, WH and I play with them again too. From tipping them onto the floor, building towers, cities and other things, to knocking down and counting back in the box,  play is all about developing co-ordination and imaginative play opportunities. We can use blocks to explore colours, shapes and counting with any age group. We can also use them for talking with children about building and balance (eg: How high can you build a tower on the carpet? On a solid surface? What happens when you put a semi circle shape in? How can we make a see-saw?), exploring movement with the semi-circle and cylinder shapes, or even drawing and talking about 3D shapes and fractions as children get bigger. Adults and children alike (from my observations) enjoy building and playing with these blocks, and the bonding moments through any play situation are priceless.

Playing cards are in most homes, and are cheap and easy to locate at $2 shops. We have many sets and have ‘played’ with these in varied ways depending on the age of the child we are playing with. Social skills, like sharing and turn taking can be practiced by playing concentration, matching games (numbers, colours, or shapes), snap and fish. Rule following and changing for these games also allow opportunities for children to take ownership of developing games and articulating differences they have applied to existing games. Again, the opportunity for developing language and bonds with others is a bonus of any type of game played. When I suggested this post on the facebook page, other uses of cards included building card houses (avoid plastic coated cards here as they can be too thin and slippery for this to progress vary far), and introducing the element of ‘luck’ into the games played, so that winning is not just reliant on skill or speed.  Games like ‘gin rummy’ and ‘solitaire’ offer older children and adults more complex rules, and the element of luck, to consider and respond to using a variety of strategic playing options. 

A commercial card game that can be fun at many ages is ‘Uno’, I have had the pack above since I was 10, and drove my family mad wanting to play it. The basic rules require strategy and memory (to shout ‘uno’ at the right time) to use the cards you are dealt, to win. When I was involved in teaching in a summer school program ‘Uno’ was played often with tutors and students in break times (using 2 packs of cards and up to 20 people playing at a time), but the rules were known as ‘summer school rules’, including changes like everyone passing their hand of cards to the left when a ‘draw four’ was put down…heaps of fun and lots of thinking/strategy/luck required too.

Do you have card games you like to play with children or family? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, keep playing

Fiona T

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