Category Archives: Education

Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

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! 

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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:

  1. Feel anything that bothers you
  2. Imagine a way to make it better
  3. Do the act of change
  4. 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.

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Students from Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco - Winners of Design for Change USA

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!

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IMG 0470 300x225 Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

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 info@designforchange.us .

Here is what you can do today:

  1. Spread the word about DFC by sharing the link with family and friends
  2. Sign up your school/organization
  3. 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.

ThinkFun Games Ignite Minds in a 7th Grade Math Class!

This story is shared by Lori Mullarkey, an incredible 7th Grade Math Teacher in Nebraska City!

 

Because so many students feel defeated before even giving math a chance in 7th grade, my classroom philosophy is to encourage students to like math more at the end of the year than at the beginning. I have found that doing several hands-on activities and giving time for problem solving games does just this! ThinkFun games help students feel a sense of mastery in math which they have seldom had before. The beginner levels meet students where they are at and give them a sense of accomplishment as they pass each challenge. Students continue to be challenged as they move through the leveled cards. I have several students who are proud and excited to tell me that they just passed every card in the deck!

 ThinkFun Games Ignite Minds in a 7th Grade Math Class!

My first experience with Think Fun Games was at a High Ability Learner’s (HAL) conference. One of the sessions focused entirely on problem solving through single player games. They walked us through the general plot of each game and simply gave us time to play. It was only a few minutes before I realized I was addicted myself and had to have these games! I knew that all my students, not just my gifted learners, would love playing these games. I hoped that these games would help my at-risk students find some fun and motivation in school (even if it was from problem solving games), so I purchased a small handful just to test them out in my room. The result has been amazing and I soon had a wish list a mile long for my classroom!

 

As the year progressed, I noticed that students would ask to play the games as soon as they entered the room. As other students began watching, they too would start begging to play and “calling” particular games at the beginning of the period. Knowing I did not have enough games for each student, I told students once their assignment was completed, they could choose a game for the remainder of class. Once all the games were chosen, they could play quietly in partners. Sure enough, I had almost all of my students focused on finishing their homework in order to play the game of their choice! Our MathCounts club also loved them so much we began fundraising in order to purchase more games for the room.

 

Over the past 2 years, I have collected nearly 40 different single player games and created a small problem solving station in my room. In addition to the games, I also purchased a cube storage unit with 5 different drawers. Each drawer is a particular type of game. Drawer 1: Navigation Station: Rush Hour, Roadside Rescue, Stormy Seas, etc. Drawer 2: Shape It Up: Shape by Shape, Block By Block, Square By Square, Tangrams, etc. Drawer 3: More Think Fun Games: Games that were created by Think Fun but I didn’t have enough of the same type to designate a drawer. Drawer 4: Educational Insight Games (similar to those of Think Fun), Drawer 5: Other: for smaller brainteasers (think fun also has several of these). Since these are designed to be single-player games, students simply take them back to their desk to play once their assignment is finished. There is also an eight-foot table in the back of our room for when partners or small groups want to work on a game together.

 

At the beginning of this year, I took a class period to explain the problem solving behind each game to all of my classes. Students were told that once they completed their assignment they may ask and select a game to play for the remainder of the period. About once a quarter, or before holidays, we have a problem solving day instead of having class. I set a game on each desk, and students shift over one seat every 10 minutes trying the various games in their row. At the end of the period, we spend time discussing the problem solving used in various games and students discuss how they would rate particular games.

 

I also am the sponsor for our MathCounts club, and students frequently request problem solving game days! The eighth grade students involved in MathCounts said they joined just for the problem solving games and the sixth grade students also love the chance to play them. Since there are not as many students as a typical class, we can focus a day on geometry and do the shape puzzles, or have a rush hour morning instead of practicing math problems. They simply can’t get enough!

 

Classroom favorites include: any of the Rush Hours, Shape by Shape, Roadside Rescue, 36 Cube, Hot Spot, and Chocolate Fix. As said before, most students stick with a particular game until they have mastered all of the cards. These games not only challenge kids, but my husband and I master a card at each level before bringing them to school for the students to play.

Arcola Elementary Students Create a Cardboard Arcade!

This week I was invited to the grand opening of a very exciting new local entertainment spot.  This innovative new arcade featured dozens of never-before-imagined challenges and flashy prizes…. the best part?! It is made entirely of CARDBOARD!

IMG 2330 224x300 Arcola Elementary Students Create a Cardboard Arcade!

IMG 2328 224x300 Arcola Elementary Students Create a Cardboard Arcade!

Whack-a-Mole!

Inspired by the story of 9 year old Caine Monroy and his cardboard arcade, students at Arcola Elementary created their own school-wide arcade!

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Thousands of cardboard boxes were scavenged from local businesses, basements, and recycling bins – and the results were amazing!  15 classes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders built arcade games, and 75 amazing game creations were on display for the whole school (K- 5) to play.

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Student creators took turns hosting different classes in the arcade, proudly showcasing their games while managing excited crowds, collecting tickets, and distributing prizes!

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Families gladly emptied their junk drawers to contribute to the treasured prize collection!

Nirvan, the filmmaker who first introduced the world to Caine’s Arcade, joined in the fun via Skype, and students excitedly showcased their creations as he made the rounds through the arcade on a laptop cart!

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Hi Nirvan!

The creations these kids came up with were so impressive, and I was so honored to be part of the celebration of creativity at its cardboard finest!  I’ll close with a video of one of my favorite games in action – Whack-a-Mole!

More great photos from a super fun afternoon:

To learn more about Caine’s Arcade, help support his college fund, or get yourself a snazzy Caine’s Arcade tee shirt, visit this site!

A 5th Grade Math Teacher Uses Games to Motivate All Learners!

This post is shared by Bryan D. Williams, a 5th Grade Math Teacher in Washington, D.C.

 

Much has been written about playing games in the classroom. There have been numerous articles that speak to the powerful ways that games can motivate students to be more engaged in the teaching and learning process. Other articles have talked about how games can be used to reinforce skills and concepts already learned, review skills and concepts that are currently being covered, or be a preview of what is coming up. Problem solving games in particular provide students an opportunity to develop and strengthen problem solving strategies. In addition, as students work together and play various games in the classroom, they are learning from each other and developing multiple strategies to help them become increasingly more effective problem solvers and more accomplished mathematicians.

 A 5th Grade Math Teacher Uses Games to Motivate All Learners!

Bryan's game shelf!

As a classroom teacher, I have seen how the use of games in the classroom can provide a fun and non-threatening environment to help students develop and strengthen problem solving strategies. Over the past five years, I have worked in schools that had a core mathematics curriculum that emphasized the use of games to help reinforce skills and concepts being taught throughout the year. The range of games, the challenge that they provided, and the ability to work with the fellow classmates was all the motivation they needed. While students worked together, it was amazing listening to the kinds of conversations that were sparked by collaborative and at times the competitive nature of the games being played. Having students engaged in these kinds of meaningful activities also allowed me an opportunity to pull small groups or individual students to help provide more individualized instruction.

 

 

Many of the games being played would be out and available for students to use throughout the day. Our daily schedule included free choice time and, when other assignments were completed, choosing to play a game with a friend was almost always an option. The ability to make choices like these in the classroom became very empowering for my students, and they took the responsibility seriously requiring very little support. Many of the games being played were also differentiated and could be used as remediation, review, or extension. The games became an integral part of our classroom and my students benefited greatly from the experience.

ThinkFun’s GridWorks Game Enriches a High School Math Class Curriculum!

This fantastic story is shared by Lisa Kosanovic, a Math Teacher at Holyoke High School in Massachusetts.

 

I teach high school math in the sixth poorest community in the nation, and for us, math class is too often about passing our state’s standardized tests. While many of my students lack basic skills, I often see a high level of reasoning and problem-solving skills that I want to develop and encourage.

 ThinkFun’s GridWorks Game Enriches a High School Math Class Curriculum!

Several years ago, I bought ThinkFun’s GridWorks game for my own children, who loved it. Soon thereafter, I was working through a state test problem with one of my Algebra I classes, and I realized that the problem drew on exactly the same skills that GridWorks did! After several attempts to recreate the game using overhead transparencies, I contacted ThinkFun and asked if they could send me sets of the GridWorks pieces. I knew that if I had a set for each student, I could simply put the challenges on the chalkboard using colored chalk, and my students could work the problems at their desks.

 

What a success! Even the most reluctant of my students enjoyed using this game, and several came up to me after class to talk about it. One of my Pre-calculus students said she was pleasantly surprised by how much she had to think on the most challenging puzzles (I put 10 challenges on the boards around my room, including the two most difficult), and by how much fun it was to think hard in that way. Another student with serious attention issues insisted on starting with the most difficult problem, and he worked diligently through an entire class period. When he did not finish the problem, he asked if he could come back during the next class to finish, and when he returned, he stayed with the problem until it was completed correctly!

 

My only regret is that there are not books and books of GridWorks challenges! With GridWorks, I saw many otherwise-unengaged students using math skills to solve problems, and enjoying themselves at the same time. I will use this with my students every year to teach them problem-solving skills and show them that math can be fun!

Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

Holy Smokes!  I’ve just returned from an incredible week in Knoxville, TN at the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals!  This massive celebration showcased creative problem solving at its finest, bringing together over 20,000 kids and adults from 1,276 teams – 45 states, 7 Canadian provinces, and 13 countries!

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The Opening Ceremony featured indoor fireworks - the kids' energy shook the arena! Click here to see a complete video of the light show!

The DI Global Finals brings together top teams from all over the world whose participants have made it through many rounds of competition to get here.  We met teams who had driven over 20 hours to get there, (and from their energy upon arrival we are guessing this was a very spirited ride!), and we met kids in the US for the very first time who had flown in from China, Korea, Guatemala, and Poland!

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This Korean team pooled their brainpower to solve Chocolate Fix challenge #40!

Throughout the week, teams present their unique challenge (chosen from the 6 options provided at the start of the year) and also showcase their think-on-your-toes problem-solving skills in an Instant Challenge.  Hats off to the master scheduler who was able to slot in 2,552 unique performance times for all the participating teams, an amazing feat of problem solving if I’ve ever seen one!

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An "Assembly Required" challenge in action

When teams weren’t presenting, there was LOADS of fun to be had all over the University of Tennessee Campus, with activities that included outdoor concerts, family camps, a Duct Tape Costume Ball (yes, you read that right!), a Glo Ball (featuring enough neon body paint and glow sticks to light a stadium!), the Improv Fiesta, and so much more!

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These ladies arrive to the duct tape ball in style!

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Duct Tape Couture!

ThinkFun was thrilled to be featured in the EXPO Hall, where we set up a booth dedicated to PLAY!  Luckily, these kids are experts in the field, and we had a blast playing with thousands of kids from all over the world throughout the week.

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A team from Arkansas shows of a 12-CARD SWISH!

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Problem solving is sweeter with ice cream (9am, by the way!)

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Love the hair! This kid had a special kinship with the red Hoppers frog!

We set up dozens of hands-on games, presented giant brainteasers, challenged teams to step into human-sized versions of classic ThinkFun games, and featured team versions of classics like Rush Hour.  Want more?  Here’s a quick video of our booth in action!

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Pooling brainpower to tackle tough giant matchstick puzzles!

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Kids transformed into frogs to play Giant Hoppers!

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A team collaborates to solve 4 Rush Hour games at once!

ThinkFun was thrilled to partner with Destination ImagiNation to support this year’s Global Finals, and we are very excited to continue working with this incredible network of innovative kids all over the world!  One thing’s for sure – I’ll never look at a roll of duct tape quite the same again!

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4 rolls, endless wardrobe possibilities...

 

“More!” you say?! Here’s a great collection of photos from the week!

Students in Key West use games in Classroom Learning Centers

The following post is shared by Eli Jannes, a 4th & 5th Grade teacher at a Montessori Charter School in Key West, Florida.

 

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.

 Students in Key West use games in Classroom Learning Centers

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 so that the clock is not dictating children’s engagement. Instead, I observe students interacting  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 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.

ThinkFun Games Engage Every Type of Learner!

The following post is shared by Sarah Baumgarten, a 2nd grade teacher at Birchview Dunes Elementary School in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.

 

I was introduced to the ThinkFun games in September 2007, and I was “hooked” on the games the first time I played them! I found them challenging and fun. I was a little skeptical as to how my “very active” grade two class would be able to focus on the games for long periods of time. I was envisioning pieces being thrown or lost with a few fights mixed in between. I introduced the games to my class at the end of September with a demonstration session in which my students learned four of the six games. I was absolutely amazed at how much they loved the games and how engaged they were. Nothing was thrown or lost and we only a few well placed arguments with the Zingo game.

 ThinkFun Games Engage Every Type of Learner!

I have one little angel who usually needs more attention than others. He was able to play all the games without any prompting and was engaged for a full 40 minutes. The games allowed me the time to play and become involved with other children who may not always need me.

 

We have continued to use the four games once a month. However they wish they could play them everyday. My students are now being “lent” out to teach other teachers how to play the games and hopefully they will get as much out of them as we have!

Greetings from the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals!

We are having a BLAST in Knoxville, TN at the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals tournament!  We have spent the past 4 days playing with some of the most creative problem solvers we’ve ever seen – most under the age of 18!

 

I look forward to sharing more great footage and photos from this amazing event, in the meantime, this quick video gives a peek inside our booth to see the kiddos at play!

 

 

ThinkFun Games Build Pride and Self-Confidence in Strategies Lab

This guest post is shared by Stephanie Lewis, the Gifted Specialist at Clermont Elementary School in Virginia.

 

We have been using ThinkFun games for several years in our Strategies Lab at Clermont Elementary. All students in grades K-6 come to the lab at least once every six weeks for a lesson with me, the GT Resource Teacher. It’s been a wonderfully positive experience for our school. Children and teachers love the games and always leave wishing for more time and asking when they get to come again.

 ThinkFun Games Build Pride and Self Confidence in Strategies Lab

When we first started the lab, our primary goal was to provide students with a fun, highly motivating way to talk about thinking. Playing strategy games like Rush Hour and Square by Square would not only challenge students’ minds in new ways, but would teach them life skills such as perseverance, collaboration, metacognition, and strategic planning. It’s been amazing to watch students of all different ages and skill levels participate with equal enthusiasm and be willing to take intellectual risks when sharing their strategies. But what’s been most rewarding for me is the sense of pride that I see in each student when they master a particular challenge. They take each task seriously and keep trying until they get it. With every success they experience playing the games, they are learning the importance of effort and developing a “can do” attitude. That is so important to every student, but especially to those students who may lack confidence in school. Every student gets to shine in Strategies Lab.

As I was walking a class out to the lab one day, one of the students came up to me and asked if we’d be playing a particular game (I can’t remember which one.) He was excited when I said yes, and said, “I really like that game. You said last year that I was a master at that game. I can’t wait to play it again.” I remembered the comment I had made, but had no idea how much it had meant. I felt so good. I now see lab time as an opportunity to make each child experience the thrill of accomplishment.

We are continuing to develop our Strategies Lab program, using ThinkFun games as our guide. It’s been very helpful to have a common language across grade levels for talking about thinking. And it’s been extremely rewarding to see students persevering, thinking critically, creatively tackling challenges, discussing their strategies, and making real-life connections — all while building their confidence and sense of pride in their accomplishments.