Eli Jannes, 4th & 5th Grade Teacher
Montessori Charter School, Key West, Florida, USA
The most consistent pressure I feel as an educator is a restriction of my time. There are so many demands on our students that it is virtually impossible to grant them the time they need to pursue their interests. This is never more apparent than when we are engaged in ThinkFun Game Club, a classroom program that uses games to teach problem solving. The children anxiously await their scheduled class time, devour the games at each station, and always leave wanting more. There is an unspoken disappointment that we all share whenever their session ends. It always feels as though they were just hitting their stride and delving deeply into their thinking when ding, time is up. It feels as though I've given them one bite of an ice cream sundae then pulled the spoon away.
This past year has been an interesting journey for me. After 17 years in traditional public school education in New York and Virginia, I began working in a public Montessori charter school in Florida. My ThinkFun games have followed me down the coast. I am a rookie when it comes to Montessori philosophy but as I work and learn, I realize that there are many basic scientific philosophies that are a part of this method that make a lot of sense to me. The most extraordinary of them all, though seemingly obvious, is the directive that the interests of the child should guide their learning. Holding true to this premise has meant finding ways to incorporate ThinkFun games beyond Game Club so that the clock is not dictating children's engagement. Instead, I observe students interacting in Game Club and try to find particular games or strategies that we can use in the classroom, throughout the week. My decision is based on their interest as well as what we are learning in the classroom. At the end of the Game Club session, I bring 2 sets of a particular game back to the classroom.
The students in my classroom work independently and in collaborative groups throughout most of the day. There are times when they are called together for teacher guided lessons but much of their work periods are spent completing activities that they have added (or have been given) on a weekly work chart. Recently, we've added ThinkFun as one of their options. Like a learning center, children engage with the Think Fun games throughout the day. Only two games are available so that this time is used seriously, and not for a leisurely gathering. The limited availability also ensures that those who are selecting the material are truly motivated to work with it.
Providing access to a particular ThinkFun game within the classroom allows the children to persevere with challenges they didn't have enough time to solve earlier and facilitates prolonged engagement in problem solving strategies. There is no limit on the time they spend with the game. They are allowed to use the materials for as long as they maintain a focus and even return to them later if they have an Aha! moment and need to test something out. It is during this extended engagement that my students have demonstrated the most growth in their problem solving abilities.
Additionally, using a particular game within the classroom allows us to share a common vocabulary and experience as we discuss relevant mathematical concepts. For example, as we move through our unit on geometry, we are able to use Shape by Shape to discuss the design and movement of various polygons. Students are able to make connections between the various puzzles and particular math problems they have solved. They understand the relationship between their classroom learning and Game Club, becoming advocates for using games that challenge their thinking as a vehicle for their learning.