Teaching Computer Programming with Move the Turtle

Move the Turtle is an iOS app for teaching computer programming to young children (ages 5 and up). It uses the classic Logo programming language and Turtle graphics, which have been used to teach programming to multiple generations now. The app does require a bit of knowledge of how list items can be rearranged on the iPhone/iPad but that is a good thing for children to learn as well. The icon-based programming UI might be a little confusing at first but once the student understands the basics, they should be able to complete the challenges and build their own interesting programs.




Story Dice

Story Dice is another brilliant mobile app from Thinkamingo. When you first play with it, you might wonder, “What does it do?” Well, this is a creative tool, not a game in itself.

What do you do? You select 1-10 dice, then tap the screen to roll. The selected number of dice will appear with a random group of pictograms displayed, one per die. You can do a number of things with this set, but they all happen offline.

Where can I use this? It’s a mobile app, so you can use it anywhere! Yep. In the car, at the beach, in a bar, while eating a peach, at a park, on a plane, on a boat, or in the rain (well, I don’t really recommend this one, but it’s possible.) You can also use it in traditional settings like classrooms and campfires.

How can I use this? Thinkamingo has included some great suggestions inside the app with games and a journaling idea. One really fun activity is to participate in the 555 Super Short Story Challenge on Facebook! The idea here is to roll FIVE dice, create FIVE sentences, in FIVE minutes!!! That’s it! This is a lot of fun and it can be as simple or sophisticated as you like. You can post the screenshot of your dice roll to the Facebook page, then in the comments sections for the photo, post your 555 story!

“The whole village bustled with activity as they prepared for the magical tournament that afternoon. As the crowd processed to the enchanted stadium, the festival flags were raised and the court trumpeters sounded the official fanfare. King Kincaid, Queen Amelia, and Princess Esmerelda entered the royal box to watch the championship dragon battle. Mage Blackdeer, appearing in his dragon dueling armor, bowed deeply to the King and his court to present himself for battle. As he rose from his bow, a low, horrible roar full of dangerous promises filled the ears of the royal subjects, as all eyes turned to watch the dragon enter.”

Share your idea!

Post your idea here in the comments section!


Lists for Writers

Over at our app development company, Thinkamingo, we’ve released a pretty cool writing tool! It’s called Lists for Writers and is available in the iTunes App Store, Amazon App Store, and Google Play. We’re busy porting it to Nook and Windows Phone, too!

How can I use this tool in our homeschooling curriculum?

  1. Brainstorming. Do your students write short stories, novels, poems, letters, reports, or blogs? Every writing assignment begins with brainstorming. Lists for Writers gets your reluctant writer writing! By scanning various lists like Seven Basic Plots, for example, your writer may be able to hone in on a plot for his story. Developing outlines for the main characters in the story can be as easy as picking random character traits from the various character lists, or browsing for ideas or suggestions and carefully selecting something that fits.
  2. Spelling and Vocabulary.Spelling or vocabulary lists could be extracted from the lists for further exploration. Most of the lists do not provide definitions (the phobias list is an exception), so that could be an additional level of study.
  3. Geography. Use the lists of U.S. and World cities to match cities to states and countries by quizzing one another.
  4. Drawing. Practice your artistic skills by drawing a person and outfitting them from items on the clothing list! This could get crazy! Another interesting drawing exercise: draw a picture utilizing one or more of the colors from the colors list.
  5. Nature Study. Find natural occurring objects (plants, animals, minerals) that contain colors from the list of colors. Draw in a nature journal and write a description.

These are just a few ways you can use Lists for Writers in your daily homeschooling life!

Do you have an idea? Please share in the comments section! We love a good brainstorming session!


Entrepreneurship and Thinkamingo

We’ve been working very hard over here at Gifted Homeschooling on our new startup: Thinkamingo! It’s been a very interesting venture going through the incorporation process, and more importantly, the iOS app development process. We are a family business that designs and develops educational apps for mobile platforms.

Our first app – Lists for Writers – was recently approved (yesterday!) and is now available for purchase in the iTunes App Store. We like it, our kids like it, and we think you will like it, too!

We are very excited to be on this journey as an entrepreneurial family! Yes, indeed, the kids are involved. Are they employees? Not really, but they do a number of tasks including: research and development, marketing, concept brainstorming, content writing, illustration, and testing. They have some other duties that are much less intellectual and creative like tidying up the employee breakroom (the kitchen table), light janitorial work (emptying trash bins), and other miscellaneous tasks related to the mailroom, gadget charging, etc. They have been very involved in the naming, corporate identity, and app idea brainstorming. Nurturing creative and skilled entrepreneurs seems to be the direction we’re going with our school goals.

It’s the real world out there and in here, at our kitchen table. Welcome.


VANISHED, a new alternate reality game

An environmental disaster has taken place on Planet Earth and we need your help.”

Kids aged 10 1/2 to 14 can go on a learning adventure with VANISHED, a new game from The Smithsonian Institution and the MIT Education Arcade, funded by the National Science Foundation. The centerpiece of the game is using critical thinking skills to solve a mystery. Museum education, applied science, and online interactivity with experts at the Smithsonian are just a small part of this experience!

You can read more about it at Smithsonian.com and register at http://vanished.mit.edu/user/register. The fun starts on April 4, 2011, so don’t delay! Get signed up today! It’s free!


Story Prompt Tools for Young Writers

This Christmas, we got a pair of cool story prompt tools for young writers. Both could be good for writing projects or even as verbal party games.

Storymatic is a box of 500+ cards with character and story ideas.

Rory’s Story Cubes is a set of six dice with different idea icons.


Free Museum Day

Free Museum Day is coming Sept. 26th. Not all museums participate (list here).



dropboxDropbox is an online backup and file sharing tool. It works seamlessly with Windows/Mac/Linux to provide a “My Dropbox” folder that automatically synchronizes with their service. I installed it on our daughter’s laptop and told her to just save all her files in “My Dropbox”. She’s been able to do it just fine and all her work is now backed up online. If her old laptop ever dies, we can access her files on their website or set up Dropbox on a different computer and it will download everything she had stored.

Dropbox also saves revisions of files. If you save your work regularly (or use auto-save), you can go back to an earlier version of the file. This can save you from wiping out your work in Word or even recover an accidently deleted file.

Dropbox also does file sharing. My wife and I also have Dropbox accounts and it was easy to set up one folder that’s shared with the entire family. Now when our daughter wants to show us something, instead of emailing it to us, she can just copy the file to the Family folder and we all get a copy on our computer. We also use it to copy files to the one computer that’s connected to the printer, since I haven’t gotten around to figuring out what’s wrong with the printer sharing on our network.

Dropbox can also share files online. By default, all your files are private and encrypted. But if you copy a file to your Public folder, you can right-click on the file and copy a web site link to that file.

Dropbox comes with a free 2 gigabytes of storage. You can upgrade to a paid account to get 50 or 100 gigabytes. If you use my referral link, we both get an extra 256 megabytes for free.


Essay Contest for Inventors

Essay ContestInventors Digest is running an essay contest for kids ages 12-17. Show them in 500 words or less what technology, tool, product or service will shape our lives in 2059 and why. The grand prize includes a laptop computer. The contest ends August 31st.


Five Ways to Handicap a Chess Game

home school chessWhen you’re teaching chess to a weaker player, the difference in chess skill makes it hard to play a game. Here are five ways to handicap the game to even the chances:

  1. Take it easy on them. You don’t want to let them get away with making bad moves (that won’t improve their chess), so don’t just pretend to not see things. But you should intentionally make mistakes of your own and help them see how to take advantage of them.
  2. Remove pieces from the stronger player. This is a traditional way to play chess with a handicap. You can remove as little as one pawn (and different pawns cause different problems) or as much as both rooks and the queen. This makes for a challenging and interesting game for the stronger player.
  3. Switch places. Play through the opening and switch places once you get into the middle game. A good time to switch is right after they make a big mistake. Switch sides and let them figure out how to take advantage of their own mistake.
  4. Let them make more moves to start the game. Give them two, three or four moves to start the game. They shouldn’t be allowed to move past the 4th rank as white (or 5th as black).
  5. Use a clock. Give the stronger player 10, 7, or even 5 minutes while the weaker player has 30 minutes or more. Kids will still stress out and try to play fast moves, so you will constantly have to remind them to slow down and think.

But whatever you do, don’t let them take back moves. That’s a bad habit to start. They should still have to take back illegal moves, such as where a piece moves incorrectly or if the move results in check or doesn’t get them out of check.

For more ideas, Wikipedia has an entire article on chess handicapping.

[photo courtesy striatic]