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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Critical Thinking Co.'s Crypto Mind Benders Review

I loved working on mental games as a child, and to this day things like sudoku are right up my alley.  Maybe that's why I love The Critical Thinking Company.

Critical thinking skills are essential to succeed in life.  And if you are ever faced with taking a standardized test, being able to use critical thinking can make all the difference in how well you do.  On the other hand, for those of us who are, ahem, getting a little older, critical thinking skills help keep your brain active and challenged.  The Critical Thinking Co. has been around for over 50 years and won more than 100 national awards.  Their critical thinking books run the curriculum gamut from word roots to math to grammar and language arts to science and social studies and everything in between.  In fact, they even offer some core curriculums.

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For this review, the Crew had a choice between 4 books, and the one I chose is called Crypto Mind Benders Famous Quotations.  The website has this to say about Crypto Mind Benders:
Crypto Mind Benders® develop mathematical reasoning and critical thinking skills that are vital to achieving academic and lifelong success. They are great for introducing students to encryption, algebraic thinking, and basic computer programming operations.

Crypto Mind Benders® compel students to break a secret code so they can identify a hidden joke or quotation. To break the code, students must apply logic and mathematical reasoning to 3 sets of clues. The challenge is getting all the information out of each clue! Once students break the code, they can solve the cryptogram by substituting the numbers with their corresponding code letters. The Quotations book familiarizes students with classic quotations from famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Voltaire, Socrates, and more! The Jokes edition familiarizes students with classic, goodhumored, jokes that both kids and adults enjoy.

Crypto Mind Benders® develop several of the deductive thinking skills taught in the award-winning Mind Benders® series without the use of word problems. This feature makes these thinking-rich activities easier to use with non-English speakers. The classic quotes and jokes also help ELL/ESL learners further understand the English language and culture. Perfect for school, home, and travel, they are popular as brain jump-start, extra credit, sponge, or reward activities. The exercises are also great for adult cognitive maintenance

Basically, this is how they work.  On each page, there are clues, a chart to help you organize the information the clues provide, and a place for you to record your answers.  At the bottom of the page is a cryptogram that you solve by substituting letters for numbers (which is what the code helps you figure out).  The resulting answer is, in this case, a famous quotation.  Here's a not-very-good picture of what the clues and charts look like:

 The first example in the book walks you through figuring out how to solve them.  For example, with the charts above, if "a > c", then "a" cannot be 2, because 2 is the smallest number on the chart and if "a" was 2, it couldn't be bigger than "c".  Get it?  That's how the whole book works in a nut shell, except the puzzles that come later in the book use higher level math skills (o x a = (a x a) -a, for example).

The pros:  Presenting these mind benders in a cryptogram code setting engages learners who might otherwise give up when the going gets hard.  At least that was the case for my kids.  They have watched National Treasure enough to be into codes and ciphers, and that really drew them in to these puzzles.  The quotes are by folks like Einstein and Voltaire, and most have to do with education and learning to think for yourself.  Answers are given in the back of the book.  Permission is given to make copies of the pages for one home or one classroom (max. 35 students) a year, so the resource does not have to be consumable, which is very handy in multi-children homes.

The cons:  As with most mind benders, there is a learning curve.  And while it says the book is for grades 3-12+, I think you'd have to have a pretty smart 3rd grader who has already developed some critical thinking skills for them to get very far.  My daughter, who is in 7th grade, picked up the HOW pretty easily, but it still took her a while to reason through some of them as she is very creative, but not very strong in deductive reasoning.

The bottom line:  I don't think you can go wrong with anything from The Critical Thinking Co.  I'd be anxious to see the Crypto Mind Benders Classic Jokes book too, and think that solving for jokes might be even more of an incentive for my kids.  (If you click on the link above, it will give you an offer for free shipping, which can also give me a referral reward- a bonus not related to the TOS Crew at all and that anyone can sign up for on their website.)  Crypto Mind Benders is available for $10.99 in paperback or eBook format.

To read my review of another Critical Thinking Co. product, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say (4 different books were reviewed this time), go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free copy of the paperback version of Crypto Mind Benders for the purpose of giving my honest review of that product.  That book was the only compensation I received.
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