Category Archives: Education

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!

Opening Ceremony21 300x198 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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!

IMG 2166 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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!

Assembly Required 300x200 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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!

3M Costume Ball1 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

These ladies arrive to the duct tape ball in style!

Duct tape superheroes 300x199 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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.

IMG 2133 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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

IMG 1636 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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

IMG 2006 224x300 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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!

IMG 1987 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

Pooling brainpower to tackle tough giant matchstick puzzles!

IMG 1718 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

Kids transformed into frogs to play Giant Hoppers!

IMG 1731 300x224 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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!

Duct tape 199x300 Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

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.

Breaking news! ThinkFun games replace Lego as students’ activity of choice!

The following post is shared by Karen Fougere, Head of Mathematics at Armbrae Academy in Halifax, Nova Scotia!

 

“They psychotically love it”, said Armbrae’s Grade Two Teacher, Megan Acheson, when asked about Thinkfun game play sessions. “The students are so excited by Rush Hour that they ask to play it whenever there is free time; it has replaced Lego!”

Tara Burt, a Grade Six teacher, set up five Think Fun stations for the students to explore. They immediately became engaged in the problem-solving activities and enjoyed increasing the level of challenge. One student always asked for Cover-Your-Tracks, because he wanted to reach level 20.

 Breaking news! ThinkFun games replace Lego as students activity of choice!

Tara then invited the Grade Four’s, partnering each younger person with a Grade Sixer, who then became the teacher explaining the rules and discussing strategies. “It was wonderful to see how well the students investigated possible solutions together,” said Tara.

The students really love the games; they find them challenging and fun. These games provide success for those students who find written problems more difficult. They are able to visualize and solve it which in turn creates a confidence building experience. Although some of the students get frustrated, others learn to persevere.

Overall the experience for the children (and teachers) has been positively fun!

Students share games with residents at a local retirement community

This fantastic store is shared by Allison McGee, a 7th and 8th grade math teacher at All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, Ontario!

I began using the ThinkFun games with my grade 7 and 8 students four months ago, and they are loving it! In fact, the first thing I usually hear from my students now is, “are we doing Game Club today?!” We usually use Game Club once every couple of weeks, and during each session we focus on developing a different social skill and problem solving skill.

P4180108 300x225 Students share games with residents at a local retirement community

In addition to the in-class Game Club, my school also has a math club that meets once a week atlunch, and our focus is the ThinkFun games the kids already know and love from Game Club. Both Game Club and math club now provide opportunities for students to work together, have fun, and develop their thinking skills all while playing great ThinkFun games!

P4180098 300x225 Students share games with residents at a local retirement community

I recently took my grade 7 math class on a field trip to a retirement home to share the ThinkFun games with the residents. This was a great success for everyone involved! Some of the residents simply enjoyed watching the students play the games, while others got right into solving the challenges themselves.


As a teacher, it was so rewarding to see my students interacting with the residents and sharing their knowledge of a particular game. The Game Club games were great conversation starters for the students and residents, and the discussions that naturally emerged as they played helped them get to know each other a little better.

P4180095 300x225 Students share games with residents at a local retirement community

This visit was a fantastic opportunity for my students to share the mind challenging games they’ve been using in Game Club with friends in a new community. What an incredible outreach experience for my students. This trip was a wonderful experience for everyone involved, and we hope to go back soon!

A High School Math Teacher Sharpens Students’ Thinking Skills with Brainteasers!

This story is shared by Mat Reive, a High School Mathematics and Computer Science Teacher in Ontario, Canada.

 

In my high school math classes, it is common that I start the class off with a brain teaser. This is usually a brain teaser puzzle from either ThinkFun’s Visual Brain Storm set, an Ivan Moscovich or Martin Gardner book, or a brain teaser that I have gotten from the internet. The whole class participates and gets engaged in trying to solve these puzzles. If I ever forget the puzzle at the start of the class, they always remind me.

 A High School Math Teacher Sharpens Students Thinking Skills with Brainteasers!

I have found brain teaser puzzles a great way to have fun, collaborate with each others, discuss problem solving techniques, and make connections to the curriculum. It is common that a student will think of a solution or strategy to a puzzle that I have never considered, and this always intrigues and excites me.

At the end of class, if students have some free time, I encourage them to try to solve some of the harder brain teaser puzzles, like a slider puzzle, Gordian’s Knot, or a disentanglement puzzle. They get right into solving these puzzles. Two things always surprise me when students are working on these puzzles — the problem solving strategies that they come up with on their own and their perseverance and determination to solve the puzzle. It is common that they want to borrow a puzzle from me at the end of class because they really want to finish it.

 

As a puzzle enthusiast myself, I love bringing this world of logic and hands-on problem solving into my classroom to share with students!