Category Archives: Education

William and the Windmill

I have shared several posts on the incredible William Kamkwamba, also known as the Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and I’m thrilled to share the next chapter in his amazing story.

A young innovator from Malawi who taught himself to generate electricity by building a windmill from found materials and scrap parts, William embodies what it means to be a problem solver – resourceful, creative, and pioneering in his vision and drive.

william-and-the-windmill

On Sunday, a new documentary William and the Windmill will have its world premiere at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.  This film from director Ben Nabors details both his original story and his subsequent brush with fame (click here for more) – I can’t wait to see it! You can see the movie’s trailer below:

 

Happy National Grammar Day!

Few things grate me more than poor grammar – as I reflected in this post, my 6th grade English teacher spent countless hours making sure we went forth armed with the rules for proper comma usage, and her crusade for grammatical correctness lives on in me!

Today is the day for freaks like me, it’s National Grammar Day!

Which begs the question – where are you and you’re friends celebrating at?!

Photo: Commas save lives - Happy National Grammar Day!<br /><br /><br />
http://nationalgrammarday.com

Bring a MathDice Tournament to your classroom!

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!

ThinkFun games align with Common Core Standards

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!

More Flashcards Please! (said no one ever!)

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.

Sight words (photo courtesy of Toys Are Tools blog)

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.

We love these fun photos of playtime with Zingo! Sight Words

No more flashcards! Zingo Sight Words builds reading muscles through play!

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!

See how fast this kid's hand is? He Zingo-cizes regularly. He started playing Zingo when he was two

Do you have a creative way of reinforcing or teaching sight words?  I’d love to hear it!

Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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
Recognize any names on that list?  That’s right, ThinkFun’s own Bill Ritchie was invited as a featured speaker to share his work in the space of education and building thinking skills through play!  Here he is in action…

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_parkerDo 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
  • @wrice1978The 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!

Genetics… with a Zing!

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!

Genetics with a Zing!

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!

 

Swish Inventor challenges students at an Israeli summer camp!

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!”

Build Early Reading Skills through Play!

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?

Chameleon Logo

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.

ThinkFun & Learning: A S’Match Made in Heaven!

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!

2011 S'Match (first generation)

New and Improved….

2012 S'Match, Now Featuring Shapes!

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