Helping students learn to problem solve is a goal from their first day in school. Parents, and teachers seek to provide controlled opportunities for students to learn perseverance and self-control in the face of adversity while solving problems. While real-world situation usually provide the best opportunities, games can provide great controlled learning environments. Programs and apps which provide these controlled problem solving environments are abundant online.
For this post, I am going to talk about the two problem solving apps and one programming app which provide students with challenges that cause them to think, do, and revise after the plan does not work.
Bubble Ball is a problem solving game that has a ball and elements at the top of the screen and a field of play below. The goal is to get the ball to the flag without it hitting the bottom of the playing field. Bubble ball only has a single-player mode, but you can download levels created by other players or create your own levels and share. For those students who would be bothered by the sound effects, they can be turned off in the settings menu.
The second problem solving app I explored was TinkerBox HD. The object of TinkerBox is to get the required element into the basket or to use the object to hit the button. This is a complicated game requiring critical thinking and strategic planning to meet the goal. The game is designed for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.
I was able to get to Stage 2 of Level 2 before becoming stuck for an extended period of time. It took me a couple of days to figure it out. While I believe that upper elementary. middle school, and high school would find this game challenging, I think it provides great chances to work on self-control and perseverance.
If I had to choose between Bubble Ball and TinkerBox, I would say that TinkerBox would be a good app for 3rd grade and above. Placing the elements in specific spaces to complete the task at hand require critical thinking that 3rd grade and above should have a good start at developing. It requires more than one or two simple steps to solve so it makes the player consider how one move will change the next move of the items in the picture. Finally, I think the game helps the student to develop the perseverance needed when the greater challenges of middle school, high school, and college arrive.
Designing programs to cause an object to take different steps and moves is a great precursor to learning how to cretae apps and design machines or programs that help to facilitate living differently in the future. Programming is a skill that is very useful in developing problem solving skills and attention to detail. In the digital age being able to constuct programs and apps to provide quicker access to different items makes a person very marketable. Developing those skills is not done over a short period of time. They are skills which must be developed over time.
Programming apps like Scratch Jr. teach a student the basics of understanding pprogramming and app building. As students learn to program, with apps like Scratch Jr., they are able to progress to more difficult programming apps. Then they can move into coding or other skills that seek problem solving and attention to detail, like doctors, lawyers, and machinists.
I was able to explore Scratch Jr. with the assistance of my four-year old. We created a program that had the cat spinning around the classroom. Here is a screeenshot of our program.
As you can see at the end of the program we have placed a recurring loop to send the app back to the beginning and keep running. The cat kept spinning jumping, and turning around until we pushed the red stop sign at the top of the page..
Potential challenges with using an iPad to use these programming and problem solving apps are the space limitations of the screen. As you can see, the program we created iin Scratch Jr. went beyond the screen. While the program will go beyond the screen the activity remains on the screen creating another limitation. However, the limitations of these programs can be overcome by moving to bigger and better programs and coding opportunities. I was able to experience using an iPhone to drive a robot about a classroom at EdCamp Fort Wayne a couple of weeks ago. That was definitely a problem solving venture for me as I had no experience and I was handed the cell phone to drive the robot.
Please share your experiences, ideas, and feedback about problem solving and programming and how they can be used to engage students and help them develop the skills necessary to be successful in school and life. You can also email me – firstname.lastname@example.org.