Tag Archive for children

Use Games and Puzzles to teach children Problem Solving: Missionaries and Cannibals

Developing Problem Solving Skills

Thinking logically and independently is a skill that will set kids up for life: these are the skills that cause them to ask ‘Why’, to think critically, to question received wisdom and find solutions to problems for themselves.  Encouraging children out of passively receiving information into a more independent space allows them to unleash their creativity too.

Interestingly, once they have encountered a problem in one context, kids are very able to transfer their solution to different scenarios. You will find classic problems, like the Missionaries and Cannibals below, presented in a range of diffferent guises involving foxes and chickens, bridges and horses etc.

Try puzzles like this one with your kids – get them to try out their ideas using the game in the link below:

Missionaries and Cannibals

In this classic river-crossing problem, three missionaries and three cannibals must cross a river in a boat which can carry two people, but on both banks missionaries cannot be outnumbered by cannibals (if they were, the cannibals would eat them.) The boat cannot cross the river without people on board and all missionaries and cannibals can row.  How can you get all six across the river and how many trips will it take?

In its original state this problem is trivial, however the problem can be elaborated, for example one variation states that three missionaries with a single cannibal can convert him into a missionary;  another shows that when you try to get four missionaries and cannibals across the problem becomes unsolvable.

This problem is a ‘toy problem’, of no intrinsic value but useful to illustrate a facet of a larger problem or explain a problem solving technique. Saul Amarel used it as an example of problem representation in artificial intelligence.  It is also commonly used to demonstrate searching in AI including classic search algorithms such as breadth-first and depth-first.

Click here for a solution and to play the game.

Fun and Games with Computational Thinking: Children Thinking Logically

What is Computational Thinking?

Our brain works in a similar way to a computer storing data, by keeping information in patterns which are recovered when needed. Computers store data in 1s and 0s while brains store information in patterns and sequences.

A foundation stone in ‘computational thinking’ is thinking logically.  Logical thinking means inferring new information from that which you have already, with no guessing: each step must be rationally worked out.    Searching, sequencing, planning, and scheduling are all facets of computational thinking that underpin our daily lives.  These logical skills support many other fields – both for children in tasks like planning the route to school, organizing a game, sequencing the revision planner and for adults in daily lives and in other disciplines like research, engineering, project management

Speaking at Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series recently, Dr. Jeannette M. Wing, the Head of Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Science Department said “Computational thinking helps us figure out how to solve problems through reduction, embedding, transformation, decomposition or simulation.” She added “Teaching computational thinking can not only inspire future generations to enter the field of computer science because of its intellectual adventure, but will benefit people in all fields,” Dr Wing went on to say “we should be taking advantage of the tech-savvy generation in order to teach more about computer science. We should try to teach the younger generation the reasons behind new technology.”

So, how can we equip our kids to be creators, not just consumers?

How can we foster computational thinking?

Research shows that games help develop computational thinking abilities in children and logical thinking is challenging and fun. Most newspapers have logical thinking puzzle like Sudoku and Kakuro are great examples of logical thinking exercises. Taking the information given in a few squares of your 9×9 grid, you must deduce the values in all the other cells to solve the puzzle.  A single logical thinking mistake will prevent a solution, but each new cell value can be logically deducted: other possible answers will be excluded by your logic.

Introduce your children to fun puzzles like Sudoku and Kakuro.  Try online thinking games too – www.Robozzle.com is an excellent place to find logic puzzles suitable from about 10 years upwards, with a competitive element if your children are interested in the additional challenge.  These puzzles teach us all to think logically and computationally, increasingly naturally and this skill will quickly translate into real-world problem solving.

Interestingly some computer games, eg Runescape, can also foster this kind of logical thinking with the quests and puzzles which encourage users to break a challenge down into steps, then sequence these steps into a plan, execute the plan, then evaluate to see how effective their planning had been.

Dr. David Anderegg spoke at TEDx Brussels 2010, explaining that we need more creative people who can discover smart long-term solutions to our complicated problems. The future is bright for children who master logic and computational thinking – kids who understand why and how systems work, rather than just accepting that they do.

Grooming – how can I recognise if my child is being groomed?

What is Online Grooming?

A course of conduct enacted by a suspected paedophile, which would give a reasonable person cause for concern that any meeting with a child arising from the conduct would be for unlawful purposes.” From the Sexual Offences Act 2003

Frequently child sex abusers groom their victims in recognised stages. As parents and carers we can learn what signs to look out for in protecting our kids.

In order to recognise a threat to our children we must get beyond the idea that child sex abusers are middle-aged male strangers in trenchcoats.  The reality is very different. A child is more likely to be abused by someone they know and a predator may be male or female and of any age.

Perpetrators go to great lengths to cultivate a relationship with a child to ensure their cooperation.  This cultivation is “grooming” and INTERPOL state that “The majority of sex offenders groom their victims.”

Identifying a Target

Whist predators have different preferences in terms of age, gender and other features, generally search for a child who appears vulnerable in some way.

Be aware of an adult who spends time in places like your local park playground or schools, particularly if they are not with a particular child. Be watchful and do feel able to question anyone to appears to take too close an interest in your child.

Information Gathering

Having identified a possible victim a paedophile will frequently attempt to gather information about the child, possibly through conversation with the child, but sometimes with the parents too.  Online chat rooms, games and virtual worlds allow relatively easy access. A predator will often try to cultivate a relationship whilst distancing a child from it’s parent by being sympathetic or overly complimentary toward the child, whilst reinforcing negative thoughts about their parent.  Some will offer opportunities, eg modelling photo-shoots or soccer trials. Others will quickly identify an insecurity or vulnerability and prey on it eg showering an unconfident child with undue affection and praise.

Be wary if an adult starts asking you or your child intrusive and personal questions. Teach your child that they don’t need to respond with personal data, just because an adult asks; if it feels wrong, it often is. Know which adults take an authoritative part in your child’s life; listen to your child if they talk of a particular adult more than another.

Lowering Inhibitions

With a relationship established a predator will try to introduce sexual context into the relationship, perhaps through increasingly sexual comments or showing film or images. This can initially cause embarrassment and discomfort and again it’s useful to teach children to recognise their discomfort as a warning signal.

Look out for changes in your child’s approach towards an adult in their life, and for inappropriate sexual interest or comments that they clearly must have heard elsewhere.  In terms of online relationships, keep the dialogue going about their interests online, who they meet and talk with.

Some children fear they will be in trouble or will disappoint their parents if they admit to having behaved inappropriately online and this works in an abuser’s favour – try to ensure your kids know that they can tell you without fear of trouble if they have made a mistake and need help. Predators will use this fear and guilt to blackmail a child into doing things they would never normally do.

Initiating the Abuse

Children who are being abused frequently show significant changes in their behavior and character. To protect your child, be informed about the issues, trust your knowledge and intuition and keep the dialogue open with your child. Be aware that the changes in behaviour mentioned may be as a result of other difficulties, eg bullying, but still warrant exploration.

Teach your child to listen to their intuition and act as soon as their alarm bells ring. If online, remind them not to go into private chat rooms with people they don’t know and trust in real life. Ensure they know how to protect their personal information online, eg privacy settings, not publishing personal data, avoiding public chat that gives away their ASL (age, sex and location). If they are approached while gaming or in a virtual world, where possible they should report an inappropriate approach to moderators, and protect themselves by logging out, leaving the world, and certainly not responding.

If you are concerned about an adult your child interacts with, investigate further and, if necessary, act to sever any questionable relationships.

If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t post, text, email, tweet or IM it.

So many children and teens are having arguments online that could be easily avoided if they followed the same social code online that they do IRL (in real life).  It’s been said before, but it’s worth mentioning again: without facial expression, body language and tone, words can take on a whole new meaning. The reader interprets them, often wrongly, and attributes meaning where there may be none; then they respond in kind.  And so the spiral begins, often ending badly for all.

So a conversation that is well worth having with your kids, from an early age, is to think before you click.  Say it often and say it loud “If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t post, text, email, tweet or IM it.”  This makes for smoother, kinder relationships all round.

If your children read something unpleasant, encourage them to sort it out face to face with the sender rather than responding digitally.  It’s possible they have misunderstood the sender’s intent. If need be, get a trusted adult to mediate, but don’t carry an argument on online and in public.  It never ends well.

Digital Safety: Keeping the discussion going

Have you ever had one of those conversations where you try to give your kids some sage advice and they shuffle a bit, then zone out?  Why is it that the most important conversations can be the most difficult ones to have?

One particularly useful mechanism for getting over this – and avoiding the disconnection – is by using current headlines to explore a topic.  This gets past the lecturing and opens up a sharing of views, letting your child feel heard and engaging them on an even footing.

Try a few of these as a conversational starting point:

Keep the discussion going and the conversation open.  Recent research from the Australian Government shows that tech-savvy kids want their parents to up-skill and be able to listen when they have trouble online.