For the past several years, I have shared the fun of the annual Arlington County MathDice Tournament. This county-wide event brings together students who have been practicing and playing Thinkfun’s MathDice game for months in preparation, and the skill level, determination, and often off-the-wall wacky team spirit is always inspiring!
For a refresher, check out last year’s MathDice-themed performance of Proud Mary!
This year, ThinkFun decided to package the Tournament experience so teachers worldwide could easily recreate the fun and learning that competition brings! I am extremely proud of the MathDice Tournament Kit we’ve created, and I am thrilled to know this great learning game will help more students get excited about math!
I recently made a quick video explaining the basic MathDice game and sharing the contents of this new kit – you can check it out here!
For those in the education world, the new Common Core standards represent an important initiative in the pursuit of clarifying and improving the quality of education in the US. Read more about Common Core standards here.
Coming from an education background, I have always been committed to furthering ways in which ThinkFun games can integrate into and enrich classroom learning. Working with expert teachers and gifted specialists, I have begun the exciting work of mapping some of our great learning games to specific common core standards – both to help teachers select the most appropriate games for their learning goals, and also to help highlight the true academic value these thinking tools have!
This matrix represents exciting initial work, but we’ve got much more to do! Are you an educator who uses ThinkFun games with your students? I would love your help with this project – please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you are interested!
As any teacher or parent of an emerging reader will tell you, there are certain key words that children must learn in order to become fluent readers. These words, called Sight Words, are words like “of” and “the” that appear frequently and are often not spelled phonetically. Children must learn to recognize and read these words by sight, as stopping to sound them out would slow reading speed down significantly and make it difficult to promote comprehension.
So how do we learn these words? For many, flashcards are an obvious choice since these are words learned through repetition that must be recognized at first sight… but how dull! As a kindergarten teacher, I had a massive Sight Word Wall where we posted words like these throughout the year to practice and to build familiarity, and many other creative exercises and ideas have been shared by teachers, therapists, and parents to make learning more fun (just go to Pinterest and search for the term!).
Because learning these Sight Words is such a fundamental piece of becoming a successful reader, I am beyond thrilled that ThinkFun came out with Zingo! Sight Words! This game uses the addictive fun of the Zingo! Zinger (I mean seriously addictive – have you ever tried to pry that thing away from a 5 year old?!) and modified game play to feature 26 critical Sight Words.
These words were selected by teachers and language therapists in the US and Canada from the 220 words on the official Dolch Sight Words list as the most important words for young readers to practice.
But don’t take my word for it, Zingo! Sight Words was awarded the Play Advances Language (PAL) Award for supporting language development through play and chosen by the organization as a top 10 game for 2012! Read more in this press release.
Check out this amazing expert review of the game on the Toys Are Tools blog. I love this blogger’s photo (and the word she invented in the accompanying caption!) – learning in action!
Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling waaaaay up north to be part of the very first TEDxEdmonton Education conference! In the TED spirit of ideas worth spreading, this conference focused around a conversation on how learning is evolving and impacting our schools, workplaces and industries.
This fantastic event featured speakers directly from the education world and individuals doing innovative work in related areas. TEDxEdmonton Education was designed to kickstart a discussion on learning. How do we disrupt the status quo and replace traditional approaches to learning? How do we leave the politics of education behind to focus on impact and innovation? Some incredible conversations emerged!
The 500+ attendees included students, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and community, technology, and business leaders across K-12 and post-secondary education… .quite a dynamic crowd! Speakers included:
- Larry Anderson, ManCap Ventures
- Ashlyn Bernier, Graduate Students’ Association
- David Bill, Urban School of San Francisco
- Carla Casilli, Mozilla Foundation
- Stephanie Lo, TED Ed
- Bill Ritchie, ThinkFun Inc.
- Amy Shostak, Rapid Fire Theatre
- Kris Wells, Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services, University of Alberta
Bill shared learnings from his 28+ years in the games industry, and his talk focused on the idea of Thinking Skills – having spent years searching for a definition and clear meaning of this term, Bill posited to the audience that people are just plain confused about what thinking skills are. ThinkFun’s goal is to be pioneers in this space, creating programs that genuinely deliver thinking skills through playing experiences.
In Bill’s words, “We believe in the power of play to inspire kids and prepare their minds to be ready to learn, then it’s up to us to deliver the goods.” He introduced ThinkFun’s newest Brain Lab program set to launch in November – stay tuned!
In discussing the typical way schools teach “thinking skills,” Bill shared this fantastic cartoon he dreamed up and our graphic designer created, anyone have a good caption!?
During the breaks between speaker sessions, attendees had a blast playing with ThinkFun games (even Giant Rush Hour made an appearance!)… some fun photos of the games in action:
The conference twitter stream captured some fantastic highlights of Bill’s talk and the conversations it sparked.
- @maureen_parker: Do you believe in learning that is more than sugar-coated academic skills?” Bill Ritchie on creativity & thinking skills #TedxEdmonton
- @puneetasandhu: When thinking skills are subjugated to academic skills, they kind of lose their soul.” -Bill Ritchie #tedxedmonton
- @carolynjcameron: #tedxedmonton Bill Ritchie thinking skills incude whole person – emotional,cognitive, metacognitive-through play and game-making#gcms #psd70
- @deanwalls: Bill Ritchie says to move from cognitive to metacognitive by designing, instead of doing, puzzles. #tedxedmonton
- @wrice1978: The importance of emotional, cognitive and meta cognitive skills and engagement to build thinking skills via Bill Ritchie. #tedxedmonton
- @mmichellelam: “Play is what makes the world go around.” – in a conversation I had with Bill Ritchie from @ThinkFun #tedxedmonton”
I look forward to sharing a link to Bill’s talk once it is posted next month – stay tuned!
The following guest post is shared by Allyson Zanetti, a biology teacher for at-risk students in a high school outside Detroit… the way she has taken Zingo!, a game originally designed for preschoolers, and transformed it into a tool to teach the principles of genetics is incredible!
Teaching at-risk high school students can be a challenge, but it is a job I adore. I begin this school year with much enthusiasm especially eager to use the Think Fun Zingo! Bingo with a Zing games that were generously donated to my classroom for a genetics assignment. Yes, genetics – I teach high school biology at Southgate Adult and Community education, an award winning school for at-risk youth in suburban Detroit.
Often teachers think that all of the fun and games occurs in the elementary grades or that pretending needs to be left in preschool. Well, that attitude is not prevalent in my school. Many of the teachers are incredibly creative bringing complicated physics topics to life with Hot Wheel cars or playing dice to explain algebraic equations.
I use my colleagues as an inspiration trying to think of ways to make high school biology fun. I can hear some you gasp and moan at the thought of looking through a microscope, dissecting a frog or learning about DNA. I understand that science is not for everyone, but for me it is the most interesting field there is and I want all of my students to see the wonder in the natural world, too.
Teaching genetics is a complicated topic. The introduction is usually one my students dive into with gusto. They like finding out why they have brown eye and their brother has blue eyes or why they can roll their tongue to look like a straw and their lab partner can’t. However, their gusto quickly wanes as words like dihybrid cross and heterozygous recessive come into play. In the past, I talked about Gregor Mendel and his pea plants with passion, but their eyes would glaze over. The concepts of genetic ratios went in one ear and out the other and their test scores showed that I was not teaching that topic in an effective way. What could I do to help them understand Mendelian genetics? We talked about roosters and their combs on top of their heads and white cats with long tails and brown cats with short tails, but they still looked at me as if I was speaking a languae they did not understand.
One evening while playing Zingo with my son, I realized that there is an aspect of probability to the game and that I could use it to teach genetics. I dove into modifying the game to be used as a manipulative in my classroom. I put labels on the backs of the plastic game pieces and then brought it to school.
My students huddled around the single game and watched as I showed them the possibilities that would occur if a short- tailed, white cat mated with a brown longed-tailed cat. Students created data sheets for keeping track of the tail lengths and color of the cats.
After 16 pulls, the students tallied their results. We talked about probability and they discussed what happened. We did the cross a second, third and forth time still collecting data. Students cheered when we got a long-tailed white cat and we laughed when occasionally a shoe or a panda tile would pop up because we had accidentally put the tile in upside down. We joked that cats could have a long-tailed panda baby or a brown shoe.
After the fun with the Zingo! game, my students dove into other Punnett squares with enthusiasm and asked to use the Zinger to make other games related to pea plants and roses. They used information from our text book and pretended to mate a Wyandotte rooster with a Brahamas hen, each time pulling the Zingo tile dispenser back and forth to expose the gamete possibilities. They even wanted to use the Zinger to make a vocabulary matching game. To my surprise, dihybrid cross and heterozygous were included in their list.
The game was passed around and the sound of the Zinger clicking back and forth became the sound of learning. I was thrilled. I had taught them a complicated topic in genetics and they actually enjoyed it. They were not moaning or staring at me like I was speaking Chinese. Happily, their test scored improved, too. I felt successful and I loved that a game made for 4 or 5 year olds could teach my high school students a complicated genetics topic.
Knowing I needed more games, I contacted ThinkFun, and they kindly donated six Zingo games to my classroom. I spent the summer modifying each game into our Mendelian genetics game – Genetics with a Zing! and I even changed some of the tiles into a vocabulary bingo games. There are 72 tiles in each game which is plenty to use for a variety of activities. I can’t wait to hear the click-click, click-click of the ZInger in my classroom. Zingo! is synonymous with learning in my biology classroom and it has really ignited the minds of my students. See, play is not just for preschool or first grade. My 17 year old students can play and learn at the same time.
Here are the directions of what I did to modify the game and a few fun photos of the game in action.
I used this information to do a cross in which a short tail (S) is dominant to a long tail (s) and brown hair (B) is dominant to white (w). The cross became SsBb x SsBb.
Next, I created 8-SB tiles, 8-Sb, 8-sB, and 8-sb by using my label maker and sticking the labels onto the backs of 32 to the tiles. I shuffled the tiles and placed them into the Zinger with the genetics sides facing up making sure half of the tiles are on one side and half are on the other. I pulled the Zinger back to reveal two tiles. I recorded what the offspring would look like remembering to convert the letter code into a type of cat. For example, ssBB is a long-tailed, brown cat. I did this 16 times total and recorded what the animal would look like each time. I then tallied the results which prompted more questions like: What is the most common looking cat? Can those cats have a long-tailed, white kitten? Did I get the 9:3:3:1 ratio that Mendel predicted? Why or why not? What is probability?
Have you ever modified a favorite game to use for a different purpose? To teach or explain something? Please share you story!
Last year, I introduced the amazing inventors of Swish in this post. Zvi and Gali both continue to teach in Israel, and Gali Shimoni recently shared this fantastic story of their experience using Swish at a local summer camp!
I have a very good friend that every summer runs 2 camps for excellent students (each camp is for 7 days and 6 nights). One camp is for students who finished grade 7, and the other is for those who finished grade 8.
A couple of months ago he called me and said, “I want to use the game you and Zvi invented in my camps.” The interesting thing is that this friend had never played Swish.
He added, “every day I ask my students a daily riddle. The one who solves each riddle gets a prize. This year I want the prize to be Swish. I think about it as a test for your game – will students put the game away, or will they play it during their spare time?
So, my friend bought 6 games for each camp, and I gave him 2 more just for his counselors. In the beginning of camp, my friend called and said his counselors were addicted to the game! On the second day, my friend called and said I must quickly come to see what was happening in his camp. When I got there, I saw groups of students all over the place sitting and playing the game!
When I looked at the game of one of the groups, I immediately saw 3 cards that made a Swish. I told the student that I found a Swish, and they said I could show it to them. When I pointed at the 3 cards, the students told me that they were sorry, but they were looking just for Swishes made of 5 cards or more – as I mentioned, excellent students!
My friend summarized the experience: “Now I know that all what you said about the game you invented is true!”
The following post is shared by Malia, a former teacher and founder of the early literacy company Playdough to Plato! Malia reached out to ThinkFun after finding our games to be fantastic language tools, and she was eager to share them with her readers! In this post she shares her experience with Zingo! and What’s GNU?
Several weeks ago, my boys and I had a play date with one of my supermom friends and her children. I casually mentioned how excited I was to start playing games together when the children were a little bit older. Sportsmanship, perseverance, teamwork… There were so many healthy life skills that games help develop.
As soon as the words “kid-friendly games” left my mouth, my friend jumped up and walked over to a large shelf filled with activities for her children. She took down a medium-sized royal blue box and asked, “Have you played Zingo!?”
“No,” I said. I’d never even heard of it before. Hmm… My curiosity was piqued.
Just as my friend placed the box on the table, her four year old son noticed the flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. “Zingo!” he shouted as he ran over to join us.
My friend opened the box and pulled out a bright red thingy-majig and a set of game boards filled with pictures and matching labels.
“The rules are simple,” she explained. “It’s just like Bingo but with a twist. It motivates children to practice reading. I promise it’s addictively fun.” It sounded like a dream come true. But I was still skeptical. Could it really live up to her rave reviews?
We invited her 2.5 year old daughter and my 2.5 year old son to join us. This would be a great test. Could young children actually play the game on their own? To my surprise, her daughter jumped right in. “I LOVE Zingo!” she said. I mentally added another tally to the list of Zingo Fan Club members.
My friend invited my son to slide the red tile dispenser forward and back, revealing two bright yellow tiles: an owl and a bat. She asked him to “read” the words on the tiles. “Owl and bat,” he said. Then she asked him to look at his game card and check for matches. He had an owl. “Owl!” he shouted.
“I have an owl too,” the little girl said. My friend explained that the first player to say the name of their match could take it. She invited my son to grab the tile and add it to his board. Then he slid the dispenser again dropping two new tiles.
The game continued for several minutes until my friend’s four year old son filled his board first. He was crowned as the official winner, creating a perfect opportunity for us to model how to be good losers and offer a heartfelt “congratulations”.
Without a second thought, the three children jumped right into playing round two. As parents of 2.5 year olds understand, there are few things that occupy my son’s attention for more than a minute and a half. I was blown away!!
The moment my boys fell asleep that night I hopped onto the computer and ordered our own Zingo set. We could finally enjoy a family game night!
In addition to Zingo, ThinkFun also offers another early literacy game called “What’s Gnu” that I couldn’t resist adding to our Amazon cart. To play, you spread out cards showing two letters and a blank. One player slides the tile dispenser to drop two tiles.
Players must race to use the letters that are revealed to make a word on one of the cards.
The player who has made the most words when the tiles run out wins the game. I can’t wait to try this with my oldest son in a year or two. It’s a motivating, entertaining way to practice sounding out words and is PERFECT for beginning readers.
The following post is shared by Tracy E., a homeschooling mother of 4 and former classroom teacher. For years Tracy has used ThinkFun games both in the classroom and with her own children, and here she shares her favorites – and the benefits she’s observed!
I discovered ThinkFun games years ago when I first became a classroom teacher. I used the strategy and logic games to help improve the deductive reasoning and logic skills in my students. Now, I am a mother of four. We are a happy home schooling family ranging from preschool to 8th grade. My children have grown up playing ThinkFun games. They LOVE them.
We have game time scheduled into our day. They can play any game, as long as it is a “thinker”.
My 5 yr old son is crazy about Solitaire Chess. It has made him a pretty tough chess opponent. My 13 yr old daughter’s favorite is still Rush Hour. She also likes the Safari Rush because the jeep can move in different directions.
My 4 yr old daughter is really having fun with S’Match. The fact that each turn requires you think about what you have to match (color, quantity, or category) makes it tougher than regular Memory…and more fun. I have seen that ThinkFun has changed the “category” selection to “shapes”. I really like this new change. I think my daughter would grasp the matching of shapes easier than the matching of categories. It is a great game with a super improvement!
New and Improved….
My 2 yr old son even gets involved, playing with pieces and trying to match the cards. He likes to work on placing the pieces onto the game boards to match the cards. He isn’t ready to play by the rules, yet.
As a parent, I can only praise ThinkFun for the thought and effort put into all of their games. They really do make “thinking fun”. The games are good quality, durable, and most of them have easy drawstring bags, making them great for travel and taking along with you wherever you go.
As an educator, ThinkFun’s games have helped improve my student’s logic and reasoning skills. They even helped improved their standardize test scores. ThinkFun helps teach children “how” to think, not “what” to think.
My own children show fantastic scores in math on standardized tests. My son scored in the 99% percentile in math (kindergarten). My daughter scored in the 96% percentile for the math total, 98% percentile in math problem solving section (7th grade).
We will always be a ThinkFun family!
Tracy E, Charleston, SC
Who knew 5 ilttle dice could bring math to life – and make it so fun?! I love this story shared by Christan Martin, a Gifted Teacher at Colonial Heights Middle School in Virginia!
Enter Room 121. Students are seated at desks facing the chalkboard. The teacher stands at the front of the room working math problems. You hear only the teacher’s voice, and you notice glassy eyes and expressionless faces on the students. That was before MathDice…
One day, Mrs. Carter asked if I would like to teach a few lessons on mental math strategies. Having just received 100 new sets of MathDice from ThinkFun, I knew I had just the activity for her class. I explained to her the rules of the game and the skills and concepts to be developed with the activities. Mrs. Carter was very skeptical. Games in math class? And not on a “reward day” or after a test? Hmmm…
Monday morning, I entered Room 121 and asked the students to use three given numbers and any operations to create expressions close to equal to a given target number, and oh yeah, without using a pencil and paper. Students were baffled. They had never been asked to solve a problem that had more than one right answer. They seldom were asked to solve a problem without showing their work. After a few minutes, I asked students to share their thinking, not their answers. Finally, after discussing the different strategies students used to solve the problem, students were asked to share their answers. The glassy eyes were beginning to disappear.
Next, I explained to the students that they would use the same strategies to solve problems during class, but instead of solving problems in a textbook, they would play a game. Students perked up! After explaining the game, discussing the materials to be used, and playing a couple of practice rounds as a class, students were ready to play! Partners were chosen and MathDice packs were handed out. Students were on their way!
As I walked around the room, I saw students solving math problems in different ways. They began using numbers flexibly to create expressions. Most importantly, they were excited about math! No longer was the teacher the only one speaking. The room was filled with voices excitedly shouting out answers and explaining their strategies to one another.
By the end of the week, Mrs. Carter was just as excited as the students. She saw how playing MathDice and completing the MathDice activities was not only fun for the students, but it was also a learning opportunity for students. Students were using mental math strategies, just like she wanted. Mrs. Carter began to see that games and hands-on activities were not just for Fun Fridays or to fill the time after a test. Instead, they are a way to build enthusiasm and motivation about mathematics and to provide students with opportunities for discovery, critical thinking, as well as problem solving using multiple operations, exponents, and even fractions — mentally!
Now enter Room 121. Students are engaged. Students are sharing strategies with one another as they sit in pairs or groups all over the classroom. The teacher circulates around the room listening to students and asking questions to encourage critical thinking and flexible use of numbers. The glassy eyes and expressionless faces have been replaced with smiles and bright eyes as math class has become a place to not only solve problems but to also have fun! Let’s thank MathDice!
The following guest post is shared by Sanjli Gidwaney, the Country Coordinator for the incredible Design for Change USA organization! Sanjli first introduced readers to DFC in this 2010 guest post, and the organization continues to do incredible things to inspire creative social change – ThinkFun is thrilled to support them!
Children are not passive recipients of modern day pop culture and television overload, they are activators and change makers of their schools, communities and the world!
My name is Sanjli Gidwaney from Design for Change USA, a national school challenge engaging children in service learning projects with lasting benefit to their community. Design for Change USA (DFC) is part of a larger global movement involving millions of students and teachers from over 30+countries. We hope to empower students to address challenges which affect them directly by infecting them with the spirit of I CAN and tasking them with four simple steps:
- Feel anything that bothers you
- Imagine a way to make it better
- Do the act of change
- Share your story with the world
Last year, what started off as a small test pilot with a handful of students and educators, has now become a national campaign placing the USA at the forefront of service learning. This year, DFC received entries from coast to coast. Submissions ranged from buying basic necessities for children living in homeless shelters to sending letters of gratitude to United States Service Members. Teachers and students went above and beyond the call to action and we should all be very proud of their efforts.
The winning entry this year came from Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco. Their project, The ONE LESS Campaign, is designed to create communal awareness about the consequences of not only the production but also the purchase of non-organic clothing.
In an attempt to pay it forward, the students at Lick-Wilmerding requested that the DFC team share their prize with the incredibly deserving children at the Vincent Academy, a new charter school serving a challenged community in Oakland. This is the truest representation of the spirit behind DFC. Here are some wonderful photos of the students at Vincent Academy enjoying their new brain games!
We’d like to thank ThinkFun, our wonderful sponsors for their generous donation of over $500 worth of ThinkFun games. We believe that children learn best when they’re having fun and who does it better than ThinkFun? It is the creative and team building skills learned through games such as Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix, which will enable students throughout the USA to brainstorm, create and execute on their plans to improve their schools and communities! Thank you for all your support and for believing in our mission.
DFC is a 100% volunteer run and we would not be where we are today without the support of passionate teachers and organizations who also believe that children are the drivers of change. If you are interested in finding out how you can get involved, please visit us at, www.designforchange.us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Here is what you can do today:
- Spread the word about DFC by sharing the link with family and friends
- Sign up your school/organization
- Volunteer to lead a project at your child’s school/organization/sports team
By participating in Design for Change, you will be joining millions of students and educators around the world saying, yes I CAN.