Thinking Skills

Blokus

Author(s): 
Bernard Tavitian
Copyright: 
2000
Publisher: 
Sekkoia
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

www.blokus.com

Blokus is more than just the most awarded game in recent history; it has almost become a phenomenon. A visit to the company website will quickly convince you how popular this game has become; international tournaments, online demonstrations, interactive Internet-based games, and even a free lost-part replacement service are just some of the features. After playing the game for several months, we are convinced that these awards are well-deserved!

Blokus is a strategy game in which a player attempts to place 21 differently- shaped pieces in one of four colors. The pieces are similar to those in a set of Pentominoes, ranging in size from 1 block to 5 blocks in varying regular shapes. The pieces can be rotated or flipped to help in placing them on the board. Pieces lock into the base grid, helping to preserve the developing game board as new pieces are laid. The winner is the player who has the fewest number of blocks left to place. A new player can learn to play literally in a minute or less. He can continue to play without mastering the game for weeks. Despite our experience with strategy games, and our desire to find "the" answer, we haven't yet found a consistent strategy that always wins. Numerous variations to the rules are available both in the box and on the Internet. It is possible to play solo, but we found it more enjoyable to play against another player.

In our homeschool, we place a high priority on critical thinking and logical analysis skills. I prefer to vary our curriculum from a book-oriented basis to a hands-on approach from term to term. Last term, I decided to focus on strategy games, and Blokus was our first-choice favorite! Even my 3-year-old became addicted to the game, despite the development of his own set of rules. Blokus is very appealing to a visual and/or spatially-oriented student, but is also exceptionally helpful in developing these skills in those of us not blessed with them naturally. In an educational setting, Blokus can also serve as a concrete example of rotations and transformations as well as an enjoyable addition to a geometry curriculum while remaining just plain fun.

Additional notes: 

Board game for one to four players.

Review Date: 
10-26-2007
Reviewed by: 

Railroad RushHour: Train Escape Game

Book cover: 'Railroad RushHour: Train Escape Game'
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Binary Arts
Subject(s): 
Review: 

I can hardly say enough good things about this fun and thought-provoking game (which a good friend gave to my son for his birthday a few days ago). Each of the 50 playing cards presents a puzzle scenario which you set up on the gameboard with the train pieces. The object is to move the pieces around until you can get the red locomotive off the board. The puzzle scenarios gradually increase in difficulty, but all of them are fun and challenging (even for parents!). Our family has already enjoyed many hours with this puzzle and, given the large number of puzzle scenarios, the variety of challenge levels and the keen interest to a broad range of ages, I'm sure we'll be enjoying and learning from it for a long time to come. Our children as young as six were able to play the game.

Although there are a number of pieces, they are big enough to not get lost too easily or be terribly dangerous for little ones (although I wouldn't trust those in the choking-range with the pieces). We punched holes in the card deck and keep them together with a binder ring. My only complaint is that the colors of the playing pieces didn't match the colors on the playing cards very well.

Additional notes: 

Includes: game board with 19 pieces, card deck and travel bag

Review Date: 
8-11-04
Reviewed by: 

The Dot and the Line

A Romance in Lower Mathematics
Author(s): 
Norton Juster
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Sea Star Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
70 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Freedom is not a license for chaos. is my son's signature below his email messages. It was written by Norton Juster, of The Phantom Toolbooth fame, and it comes from our almost-17-year-old's favorite book.

The phrase is the turning point and premise of this amazing, simply delightful little Math book. Math? That is our son's most disliked subject. Wait, The Dot and the Line is not a Math book! It is a hilarious comedy! But is that all? It is a romance, a story of love deeply felt, pursued, capable of provoking great things in the soul. In a little math book? Is it possible? Yes, it is.

Our classic languages-loving son reads it aloud every time this book visits us from the library. He suffers with the straight, dull and unbending line when driven to the "edge" (of the paper-- the line is drawn on the edge of the page) as the "perfect by every measure" dot flirts around with the anarchist, slothful squiggle. Moved by great love, the line at first attempts to show its own grandeur by asserting its importance in art, world politics, sports. To no avail: the dot is not impressed. Then the unimaginable happens: when almost giving up, the line, using great concentration, becomes able to make angles!

What follows next is what makes this little book a great book: the enthusiastic line makes more and more angles in a chaotic frenzy, until... it realizes that chaos without order leads nowhere. It stops, straightens itself again and it discovers that freedom is not a license for chaos. From then on, life changes for the line: exercising great control and virtue, it discovers a new world:

For months he practiced in secret. Soon he was making squares and triangles, hexagons, parallelograms, rhomboids, polyhedrons, trapezoids, parallelepiped, decagons, tetragrams and an infinite number of other shapes so complex that he had to letter his sides and angles to keep his place. Before long he had learned to carefully control ellipses, circles and complex curves...

Ah, the virtue of Mathematics! The beauty of its exact angles and dimensions. The rhythm, art and music of what it is able to create, using exercise and order! I will refrain from spoiling it completely for the new reader, but let me repeat the "moral" of the story: to the vector, the spoils.

The back jacket, after telling us that the author, among other things, runs "a support group for negative numbers" (one can glimpse Mr. Juster's opinion of the state of the culture in the 60s) mentions an award winning film, and I found it on You Tube. I was happy to see that that the screenplay was also written by the author but I warn you that the book is much better. This new edition has wonderful graphics and some different pictures as well.

Review Date: 
4-21-09
Reviewed by: 

The Four Questions Logic Tutorial

Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Shirreware, a small independent producer of educational software based in northeast Kansas, has two new products available now for High School and College students who are studying logic. Descriptions from their website state:

Our first program, Labyrynth™, presents students of traditional, or Aristotelian, logic with a series of questions and problems to solve through the medium of a three-dimensional, graphical world.

Our second program, The Four Questions, is a stand-alone tutorial for traditional logic, comprising a complete text, with accompanying examples, and drill-and-practice exercises for propositional and syllogistic logic.

I would like to point out the major difference between these two products. The Four Questions is a tutorial in logic presented in a very simple, read-me format with accompanying exercises. Labyrynth is an engaging computer game with color graphics and sound that requires some basic knowledge of logic. Students will be able to play Labyrynth successfully only after having gone through some introduction to logic, such as The Four Questions. The game serves as fine reinforcing of the concepts presented in the tutorial.The Four Questions CD Rom is composed of the text of the book with the same name by the same author, but with additional notes at the end of each chapter, plus quizzes and answer keys.Our 8th grader has studied logic under a dedicated tutor, and he enjoyed the game but found it frustrating at times, perhaps due to his age. The game is similar to well known computer games: players roam through a mysterious museum, solving the logic puzzles to advance to the next level as they seek the answer to the mystery of the building and its builder.
If you are looking for either a tutorial introduction to logic or a challenging but fun computer activity, check out these products. At the website you can find more information, including detailed information about system requirements.

Available from:Shirreware

Review Date: 
8-24-06
Reviewed by: 

Traditional Logic

Author(s): 
Martin Cothran
Publisher: 
Memoria Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This is a very competent book with a perfectly straightforward layout. It covers the basic topics of the form of the syllogism and the forms that produce valid conclusions.

Formal logic, for those who do not already know, means logic according to form. It's not about what is true, which depends on the truth of the premises; it is about how to draw logically valid conclusions from the premises you start with. In that sense, it is limited, but it is really the very foundation of logic in the western world. You'll learn about the undistributed middle term and the square of contradiction and things like that.

The DVD's simply present the material in the book; they are for your auditory learner and do not, so far as I watched them, have new material.

Martin Cothran is a Protestant, and every now and again, his syllogisms are about matters that would be typical for an evangelical Protestant, and not particularly appealing to a Catholic. Nothing serious, but noticeable.

The presentation is also a little short on sparkle. If you think that, since it has a DVD, you can just hand it to your children and go, it may not work. Some of the kids will just fall asleep.

Review Date: 
2-26-07
Reviewed by: