Category Archives: Games and the Brain

Jump Start Creative Thinking with Brainteasers!

In many classrooms, the day begins with “Morning Work,” an assigned activity to kick start the day.  I don’t know about you, but “Morning Work” doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting way to dive into the day.  Think about tweaking your terminology and see the response you get when “work” time is transformed into a Thinker’s Paradise!

Looking for ways to ignite your students’ minds in the morning?  Get their brains in gear with a fun brainteaser challenge!  Here’s a great example that would work well for a 4th Grade classroom:

Stacking the Dice Puzzle

StackingTheDicePuzzle 300x226 Jump Start Creative Thinking with Brainteasers!

Suppose seven dice are stacked as shown, and you can see all the exposed faces, including the Back view shown in the upper right corner.  Find the sum of the pips (black dots) on the hidden faces of the dice.

Bonus fun fact: The dots on a die are officially called “pips”

Want more?  Here is a fantastic collection of brainteasers sorted by grade that work well as solo or collaborative warm-up exercises in the classroom!  Once your students have completed several, have them create their own modified versions and challenge one another!

How do YOUR students begin their day in the classroom?  What do you call this time?  Please share your ideas by commenting here!

Enter the “Halls of Learning”

With this post I want to introduce  an incredible individual, Marvin Hall, whose Halls of Learning organization is dedicated to empowering young learners through education.  A former math teacher and lifelong lover of mind challenging puzzle play, Marvin has dedicated his life to creating innovating new learning opportunities for children in Jamaica.

marvin 300x226 Enter the Halls of Learning

Photography by Joanna Francis

The Halls of Learning Philosophy is beautifully articulated:

the cornerstone of problem-solving is creativity.
at the centre of creativity is imagination.
the food of imagination is play.
play is a path to creation.

what happens when we don’t play enough?

Marvin has been a fan of ThinkFun since our days as Binary Arts (the name changed to ThinkFun in 2004), and our retired Lunar Lockout holds a special place in his heart!

ThinkFun co-founder Andrea Barthello connected with Marvin (a TED Fellow) at a TED Conference last year, and since that time I’ve been honored to work with him and learn from the remarkable programs he has developed.  As an introduction, here is an excerpt from an email Marvin shared with ThinkFun after his initial meeting with Andrea:

I am compelled to say again that during the exhilarating experience of TED, meeting you was more than a highlight for me….and I want you to know the story of where it all came from.

As a middle and high school Math teacher, I visited Singapore in May 2002 to attend a Math conference on a mission to discover the materials and methods that made their grade 7 & 8 students rank number 1 in the world in Mathematics (TIMSS 1995, 1999). At this conference was a booth displaying these fascinating problem solving, hands-on, puzzle type games I had never seen before. That was my introduction to Rush Hour, Lunar Lockout, 4 blue shapes that formed a pyramid, some wooden blocks that made a cube and a company named Binary Arts. I bought them all… and left Singapore excited by the prospect of their use in the classroom. I lamented the thought that these educational toys were only available in Singapore and looked to Google for clarification. To my delight, a search for Binary Arts led to page saying ‘we have changed our name to ThinkFun’ and it was a company in America that made all these great learning tools, and more.

In reality, the infrastructure in Jamaican schools was not ready for educational software… for even in the rare existence of a computer lab, computing time was dominated by ‘computer literacy’ courses….which were dominated by Microsoft office… and so the rare species of a computer-literate teacher could hardly get a chance to use the lab for another subject. This made non-computer-based, non-electrical learning games the most powerful innovation that could be taken into the classroom… and I was well stocked with that ammunition.

I simply loved that ThinkFun products were affordable and offered an alternative lower cost packaging for use in schools… it sent the message that educators were considered, and not simply the retail market. That said a lot about to me about your company values.

While I was still a teacher attached to a school, your products helped deliver some of the most fun Friday Math classes my children ever had. Watching them, while fading in and out of daydreams to build my own school, I had many thoughts of game/puzzle/problem solving based courses and my “Halls of Learning” advertisements saying things like “By the end of your child’s student life with us, s/he would have solved over 1000 puzzles”.

In 2003, I left the formal classroom to focus on Halls of Learning… and so it was during my tutoring sessions that I got the opportunity to better understand the effects and design the tactics of my puzzle toolbox.

Rush Hour was the starting point, going from beginner to expert… followed by progression through the more challenging Lunar Advance. Each child enjoyed marking their initials at every stage of progress and were keenly motivated by knowing how far they had advanced in relation other the “initials” I tutored. I used Rush Hour to develop their awareness as it related to systematically solving a problem, working backwards from the desired solution and how to connect it to solving equations. After becoming an experienced problem solver, Lunar Advance was a perfect primer to logic, and with my background in computer science, I couldn’t resist telling them how it related to essential programming concepts like the if-then-else and other conditional statements. Solving a Lunar Advance challenge was like moving your hands through an algorithm while you troubleshooted a procedure.

These were also deliberate tools in building confidence and self-esteem in weak or under-performing students… because in less than 5 minutes I had them thinking “Wow, I can do this,” and for those students, Rush Hour and all my puzzle assets became as important a part of their mathematical and mental development as any exercise from their textbook.

It was sometimes daunting to stay the course when parents who have hired an expensive Math tutor to improve their child’s grade, walked into the room and see their child “playing” with plastic cars and paper cards when they expected them to be doing a long list of math questions. But stubborn belief in a good idea beyond the doubt has been the staple of my dreams. To one day have a former student tell me, “Mr. Hall, I was doing a test and solving an equation, and I was doing it like Rush Hour… it just clicked in and I realized it’s what you were helping me to learn”. (This student was also a part of my first Lego Yuh Mind robotics workshop and is currently attending Boston College)

In 2006, I increased my ThinkFun artillery with Shape by Shape, Brick by Brick, River Crossing and Tip Over. This summer I introduced my 10 year old son, Jared, to Rush Hour… and he can’t wait to get to Lunar Advance.

7 years later, I am so proud to still have my tattered and worn Rush Hour teacher bag with its holes from history, and the history it holds.

7 years later, I am still so happy to have found the gift of these puzzles from the days of Binary Arts. They are like gifts that kept on giving…..giving confidence, giving problem solving skills and giving many Jamaican children the chance to develop their thinking in a way that school does not provide….and now they give to my son.

7 years later, getting to meet you was like meeting one of the heros of my Halls of Learning dreams.

I will continue to be among your happiest customers and look forward all the possibilities that ThinkFun will continue to offer.

This summer, Marvin launched a “Puzzle Yuh Brain” hands-on workshop using ThinkFun games! Participants solve puzzles and play games that develop their strengths in logic, deduction, systematic problem solving, reverse engineering, pattern recognition, strategic thinking and visual-spatial intelligence.

Marvin Izzi 300x200 Enter the Halls of Learning

Marvin River 300x200 Enter the Halls of Learning

Check out more great photos here!  Marvin will be sharing more details on the program which is up and running right now in Kingston, Jamaica!

All learners can shine through play

I am thrilled to share the following guest post by Pia Prenevost!  In her blog The Crack and the Light, Pia shares her journey raising her son Jonathan who struggles with a severe speech/language disorder.

Teaching J-man To Play

Adorable. That defines my son J-man, with big blue eyes and those lashes that cosmetic companies would kill to be able to produce. He has an easygoing personality and is remarkably bright, especially when you consider that J-man has a severe speech/language delay. He is 3 ½ years old, and his language tests at about 16-18 months old. We have had him in some type of early intervention/speech therapy since he was about 15 months old. His disabilities are unusual. He does not fit into a typical Autism Spectrum diagnosis, but his speech/language disorder is severe and has impacted his ability to both understand the world and to communicate with it.

Wickedsmart 235x300 All learners can shine through play

Early on in our journey, I learned about Stanley Greenspan’s DIR/Floortime model. The Floortime model advocates meeting the child where they are at developmentally and entering their world to play. This style of play allows the building of relationships to occur, thus furthering communication and interaction. For children with significant language issues, this relationship building is incredibly important. It is also remarkably difficult for a parent. Often, these children have their own agenda. Some children on ‘the spectrum’ are withdrawn from the world, exhibiting real difficulty engaging and interacting with others. Other children with language disorders, like my son Jonathan, may have real interest in interacting and playing with others, but do not have the language skills to do so. Many times they become disengaged from others simply because of the communication barriers in place.

Our approach to play with Jonathan has therefore been very focused on meeting him where he is at developmentally. Note, not chronologically….developmentally. It can be a struggle (especially for others) to recognize that although he looks like a three year old… and at times acts like a three year old… his language is not there yet. And his play behavior follows suit.

100 11671 300x225 All learners can shine through play

J-man is also what I call an “extreme” visual-spatial learner and problem solver. He can do 40-50 piece interlocking puzzles. He amazed us last month with the recitation of his ABCs by identifying them on a piece of playground equipment without ever learning them from us (no doubt Sesame Street and Super Why helped). At 2 ½ years old and within one month, he went from having no words or signs to having over 40 signs, just from watching the newly acquired Signing Time videos. He constantly amazes us with his ability to learn an activity and tasks just from watching others do it, or purely through his own exploration.

Many of the toys and games we have provided J-man focus on capitalizing on these “hidden talents” while (hopefully) encouraging the acquisition of language. We have found that the most effective way to encourage learning and play is by letting him take the lead, and modeling in those moments little bits of language and communication. At times, this can be a struggle. J-man certainly prefers things to be his way. Indeed, we have often been mournfully aware that we are creating a little ‘prince’. He needs to feel successful and in control to be engaged and willing to learn, and I work hard to discover new toys and games to peek his interest. Hopefully, providing these new play opportunities will push J-man to use or try new language skills.

Some guidelines I try and live by:

1. Think outside “the box.” Recently I purchased the game Zingo! Zingo! is tagged ‘Bingo with a Zing’, and consists of a series of pieces with words/pictures and associated bingo cards. There is a plastic machine that allows you to distribute the tiles by sliding it back and forth.

Here is J-Man with Zingo! in action:

While this game is meant for older children, or children with significantly more sophisticated language skills than my boy, this game does have numerous features he loves. He loves the pieces, with the words and pictures on them. He loves matching them to the cards. He loved figuring out the machine and sliding it back and forth to get out the pieces. Each of these features capitalizes on his visual-spacial skills and his awesome problem solving abilities. However, I get to ‘backdoor’ in some language. He is exposed to words and picture associations. I label, label, label…each game tile, each action.

He engages with me, needing my help and assistance to get the game going. We practice turn-taking and following simple directions. And as he grows, this game will grow with him, as I find new and inventive ways to keep him engaged.  Thinking outside of the game or toy’s original intent, and using it in new and creative ways, is important. It is also important to allow the child to just explore the game and come up with their own “story.”

2. Respect where they are at and don’t expect more than that…Today. Many a time I have been sad or frustrated that J-man doesn’t play with toys the way he is ‘suppose’ to, or the his peers play with them. However, when I remember where he is at developmentally, I realize he really is doing exactly what he needs to be doing right now. If I expected J-man to have sophisticated imaginative play right now, I am not honoring his current language development. Indeed, his imaginative play is just now starting to emerge, and it is thrilling to see.

We have loaded the house with action figures (Buzz Lightyear and Woody, anyone?!?), trains, cars, dollhouses and dress up clothes, and he is embracing this play with gusto. But he needed to do it in his own time and in his own way. He loves puzzles, problem solving toys and games, and is very intent in figuring these things out by himself. If I interrupt his play with a new, interesting toy, I will invariably get the cold shoulder. I could worry… be concerned about his ability to engage in joint attention and reciprocal play. I am not. I know him, and I recognize his intense desire to work these problems out on his own. Once he has, there is room for me in his play. Sometimes I think that the intensity he needs to engage in that new, exciting, problem solving toy is at odds with the focus needed to include me and my language filled agenda in the action. So if I step back, allow him space and quiet, I can be part of the action without interrupting the flow.

3. The play is the thing! Shakespeare was right. In the end, it really isn’t about ‘teaching’ or ‘therapy’. While toys and games can be used therapeutically, that is not their purpose either. For us, it is about having fun. Without fun, no learning would ever really take place. Focus too much on the goal of learning, and not just enjoyment of life, and we lose him. However, get his spark through fun and play, and he learns in spite of us.

Raising a child with a disability is hard. It requires more energy and commitment than anybody can imagine. It is incredibly difficult to balance the intense desire to help your child, to give your child every opportunity, and the desire to just have a normal parenting life. I made the decision some time ago that I am J-man’s mommy first, everything else second. So I think about what will help him learn, what will further his ‘therapeutic goals’, but I don’t let it be the center of our universe. We are all happier as a result.

In addition to writing the blog The Crack and the Light, Pia Prenevost works as a NICU nurse, dabbles in writing, and is the completely smitten mother of the J-man.

The power of play to reveal and strengthen a child’s cognitive abilities is incredible… what have you learned about your child by watching him/her play?  What guidelines or tips have you discovered to help support his/her learning through play?  Please share!

It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

Last week I attended the Sandbox Summit, a conference that explores how technology affects the way kids play, learn, and connect.  Fittingly, the Summit was hosted at MIT University with the support of the school’s esteemed Media Lab and the Education Arcade.  An incredibly diverse group of individuals came together to share their expertise, ask questions, play, and learn from one another in panel discussions, research presentations (teddy bear robots!), and hands-on workshops … I’m still buzzing and eager to share these ideas and continue the discussion with you!

One session touched on an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time, and in sharing it here I hope to invite you, a member of our trusted family of educators, to join the conversation and help push this dialogue further.

The issue at hand is simply this… What role can games play in education?

DSC 0065 242x300 It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

This question emerged as part of a larger panel discussion on the resistance of educators to validate and embrace online games (i.e. Farmville, World of War Craft) as learning opportunities and invite them into schools.  Knowing these are hugely popular with students in their extra-curricular life, the professors on this panel argued that incorporating game elements into the school arena could not only help more students engage, but also would call out and validate the thinking skills honed through game play.

The major roadblock, these panelists explained, is the misguided argument against the curricular value of game play.  With budgets, resources, and instructional time constrained by the pressures of under-funding and state testing, it’s easy to see how these learning opportunities are quickly dismissed as “just PLAYING GAMES.”

DSCN0075 edited 1 300x225 It’s all fun and games… until someone learns something.

At ThinkFun, our mission to bring games into the classroom to help build 21st century thinking and problem solving skills is often met with similar opposition… and when fun and play is stripped out of the curriculum, students are deprived of new ways to engage and stretch their thinking skills through meaningful play experiences.

I want to hear from you!

How can parents and concerned educators promote the curricular value of play?  How can we find creative ways to incorporate games into the classroom?  Have you had success or overcome opposition in using games as teaching tools?  Please share your thoughts and experiences by commenting here!

Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Michele Wong, coFounder of HATCH, the company behind My Plate-Mate. This guard attaches to any standard plate to prevent messy spills at mealtime and promote independent self-feeding… if that isn’t real-life problem solving I don’t know what is, it’s no wonder her family is drawn to ThinkFun games!

Michele and her family are long-time ThinkFun fans, and I’m thrilled to have her as a guest blogger sharing her story!

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Michele Wong 300x200 Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

The Wong Family at Play!

Like most families, we seem to always be on the run from one activity to the next.  Our house is filled with constant chatter and movement.  Well, what can you expect in a home with 3 busy kids?  We do have moments of quiet down time.   This is the perfect chance to open up our arsenal of Think Fun Games instead of turning on the TV or Xbox.  Sure, I’m all for relaxing and having fun.  But while my kids are enjoying their game time, I am content knowing that the benefits of Think Fun games reach far beyond just having a good time.

I believe that learning is not merely about memorizing charts and tables in school.  It is also about creative problem solving – applying and modifying what you know to new and changing situations, looking for solutions from different angles.  All Think Fun games stimulate creative problem solving.  In the process they can also strengthen wonderful characteristics such as patience, flexibility, and self-confidence.  These are skills that will not only benefit my children in school today, but they are important life skills that I hope they will embody and carry with them through the years.

Now back to the fun.  As a Mom (family maid, referee, taxi driver, etc) I must comment on the other appreciated perks of Think Fun Games.  I LOVE that each game is housed in its own draw string pouch.  Finish the game, pile in the pieces, cinch up the bag and Voila!  Done!  These pouches also make games easy to pack and travel.  Our games have accompanied us (and saved my sanity) on an 18 hr road trip, camping trips, long airplane rides and even longer hours stranded at the airport.  The games work well played alone, collaboratively with a partner or in team competition form.

Our Family Favorites-

Rush Hour Jr. – A super fun and mentally challenging game that promotes strategy development.   It’s addictive to both children and adults alike.   And let’s face it, everyone wants to help rescue the Ice Cream Man.

Square by Square- A great game to build spatial relationships and pattern matching skills.  This is another hit for players of all ages.  Our family likes to play timed rounds in teams- kids vs. the adults.  It’s funny to watch the parents break out in a sweat as the kids “school” us in this game.

Block by Block- Another great game that promotes spatial awareness in a 3D puzzle format.  This is always popular with children who enjoy building activities.

River Crossing Jr. and Tip Over- Both excellent games that promote visual and spatial awareness as well as strategic planning.

Zingo- This is a favorite game for youngsters that involves matching as well as shape and pattern recognition.  Also promotes identification of site words and letters.   Just the sight of the “Stinky Feet” is enough to crack my kids up.

Keep up the great work Think Fun!  Our family can’t wait to enjoy and be challenged by what you come up with next.

The Wong Family

Dr. Frank Lester was in attendance at NCTM and stopped by the booth!

“Problem Solving is Problematic”

Just returned from a fantastic trip to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Expo in San Diego! Here we unveiled our new online Brain Lab and met loads of excited, innovative educators whose students will test program during the month of May!

NCTM poster 800 300x180 Problem Solving is Problematic

At the show, ThinkFun CEO Bill Ritchie presented not only the new Brain Lab, but also his thoughts on problem solving and the issues and roadblocks this field has faced over the years. I’d like to share a summary of his message here, and invite you to join the conversation!

My wife Andrea and I started ThinkFun (then called Binary Arts) in 1985, and our vision has remained the same, to create the world’s best logic puzzles and thinking games. Since our foray into educational programming with our Game Club program, ThinkFun education initiatives aim to help players build thinking strategies and problem solving skills.

In today’s standards-driven world, however, promoting a problem-solving program without measurable results is a tough sell. I’ve since come to understand that the reason we struggled to prove our programs improved problem solving ability boils down to a simple truth…

“Problem Solving is Problematic”

Trying to claim a program teaches problem solving skills can become problematic for the simple reason that “problem solving” is not well defined in educational terms.

According to Dr. Frank Lester, a retired math education professor from Indiana University and leading authority in the field of problem solving research,

“Since the publication of the NCTM Agenda for Action in 1980, Problem Solving has been the most written about, but least understood, topic in the mathematics curriculum in the United States.”

 

TanyaWithFrankLester 600 300x223 Problem Solving is Problematic

Dr. Frank Lester was in attendance at NCTM and stopped by the booth to say hello!

As we set out to develop Brain Lab, we looked outside the education world for guidance… and hit upon research being done by cognitive psychologists on Executive Function, which feels a lot like problem solving minus content learning.

While pushing forward with this, we were contacted by the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at U.C. Berkeley studying the topic of Reasoning Ability. This team had just completed a pilot study using games including Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix with elementary schoolers in Oakland. After 8 weeks, students recorded an average 10 point increase in performance IQ!  Read more

Based on this research, the team is framing out a comprehensive set of studies on fluid reasoning (the ability to tackle a novel problem). They’ll be measuring changes in brain function and IQ… and want to use our Brain Lab as the basis for their studies!

We’ve spent a great deal of energy exploring, linking to, and picking apart concepts like problem solving, executive function, and fluid reasoning in order to get to the truth of what it is our programs genuinely do for children… and we would love to hear your thoughts!

Does “problem solving” still feel like the most genuine claim? Does training reasoning skills feel like a worthwhile endeavor? Please comment and share your perspective!

San Diego bound!

NCTM button San Diego bound!Heading out to sunny San Diego for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Expo tomorrow!

If you’ll be at the show, please stop by Booth #1649 and say hello, I’d love to meet you! (and as added incentive… I may or may not be wearing a cape!)

super charlotte 144x300 San Diego bound!

A not-embarassing-in-the-least photo from a recent event!

And check out our 2 exciting presentations:

ThinkFun Hands-On Workshop:  Learn how you can use ThinkFun’s games and programs in the classroom to help students build problem solving skills.  Come play, learn, and be inspired!

Thursday, 10:30-12:00 Convention Center Room 15A

Brain Lab Presentation:  ThinkFun CEO Bill Ritchie will unveil our new online brain training program!

Friday, 11:30-12:30 at the Marriott (adjacent to Convention Center) Columbia Room

I’m looking forward to sharing details of this great conference in the days to come!

Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Here’s a photo of a real-life Rush Hour traffic jam sent to me by Laura Efinger, a pediatric occupational therapist (and big Rush Hour fan!) in Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I have attached a picture of some Cairo traffic, which may explain why we love Rush Hour in Egypt! icon smile Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!  Some is parking and some traffic, but it probably is the worst in the world, and no one follows the lines in the road and rules!”

cairo traffic jam Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A Real Life Traffic Jam in Cairo, Egypt

All that’s missing is the Red Car!

Picture 24 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A much more enjoyable "Traffic Jam" challenge!

For several years, Laura has used many ThinkFun games, including Rush Hour (which she reports is the hands-down favorite!) in her occupational therapy sessions with children in  Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I love them [ThinkFun games] as they develop the children’s visual motor/perceptual skills, fine motor, memory and planning skills.”

At a 2008 Occupational Therapy Conference, Laura presented a therapy-based workshop called “Recipes for Fun” in which participants were shown ways to use games like Rush Hour as tools to help children develop academic and sensory motor skills.  Looks like fun was had by all!

Cairo RH 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH2 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH1 225x300 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH3 300x280 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Laura is preparing for this year’s Conference which will take place at the end of the month. Here she plans to host a workshop focusing on the benefits of using card games to help children with skills such as attention, sequencing, memory, fine motor, etc.   Stay tuned for an update!

For more on Laura and her work, please visit her Occupational Therapy in Egypt blog!

Can Playing Rush Hour Make You Smarter?

Can playing games make you smarter?  This is the kind of question that causes many traditional educators to roll their eyeballs… and the kind of Holy Grail dream that drives companies like ThinkFun to develop our new programs and continue to innovate!

Last month, I was contacted by Allyson Mackey, a doctoral student who works in the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at UC Berkeley. She and a team of researchers had just finished a pilot study in which elementary school students engaged in a program playing Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix and several other games over the course of two months… and they measured an average increase that was the equivalent of thirteen IQ points from beginning to end!

The implications of these initial findings are huge, and we are thrilled to be communicating with this team and exploring possible larger-scale research in the near future using our new Brain Lab online program!  Read more about this exciting study!

brainlab Can Playing Rush Hour Make You Smarter?

A Brain Lab Tester Hard at Play

There is increasing evidence that playing the right kind of games with the right kind of structure and incentives can effectively teach content and improve thinking skills, and this is precisely what we aim to do with our new online Brain Lab program. This program takes games students already know and love like Rush Hour, and structures game play in such a way that players stretch their thinking, build their arsenal of strategies, and ultimately become more effective in their reasoning and problem solving!  Initial testing showed players eager to engage and hungry for more challenges, and we are currently in the midst of a second round of testing.

Playing in the “Just Right” Zone

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite blogs Unwrapping the Gifted. I finally had the pleasure of meeting its author, Tamara Fisher, last fall at the NAGC Annual Convention in St. Louis!

In her recent post All in the Name of “Fun,” Tamara asked her gifted students to respond to the following prompt:
“When I say that something in school or GT (Gifted and Talented) is fun, what I mean by fun is…”

The following are student responses from 1st through 12th graders (all names are student-selected pseudonyms):

“It’s really thinkable.” ~Cal, 1st grade~

“It’s fun when you’re solving. It’s fun because it’s a hard job.” ~Tallen, 1st grade~

“If everything you did was easy all the time, you wouldn’t learn anything. But learning is fun, so being challenged is fun.” ~Dorothy, 1st grade~

“Fun means you get to learn something that is outside of the school box.” ~Bubba, 5th grade~

“What I mean by ‘fun’ is it’s challenging.” ~Sally, 5th grade~

“If something is fun, it’s mind-boggling, awesome, and hard. You get to use strategic thinking to solve things.” ~Margaret, 5th grade~

“Fun to me really means that I like the challenge of something. I like knowing I’m not as smart as I seem and that I can get things wrong. That’s the best part! Yes, finding my limits is fun!” ~Laine, 5th grade~

“Fun means I’m actually challenged. In other classes I’m basically automatic, which is very boring” ~Lillian, 5th grade~

“To me, if something is fun it means it is a challenge that I can enjoy, not like the challenge of doing loads of easy work or the challenge of staying awake in boring parts of school.” ~Jelly, 5th grade~

“Fun means it’s challenging and you’re going to have to think.” ~Goldilocks, 5th grade~

“When I say that GT is fun, I mean that it stretches my mind and lets me be myself. It also teaches me that it is okay to make mistakes so I don’t get frustrated and can relax and learn at the same time.” ~Onyx, 5th grade~

“Fun means it’s challenging but not too challenging. It means something is in my ‘just right’ zone.” ~Annie, 5th grade~

“If something is fun, it means it challenged me in a fun way or proved my ability or showed me a different way to think about something that I hadn’t realized before.” ~Michelle, 7th grade~

“It means it is challenging, enjoyable, and worth the time I put into it.” ~Ailie, 7th grade~

“What I actually mean by ‘fun’ is that it was challenging. When I get it, I have a sense of victory and growth.” ~Keegyn, 8th grade~

“I am happy that I can achieve what is set in front of me and this in turn is fun to me. Normally this involves a challenge, which makes me strive to beat the challenge. In essence, it’s just proving to yourself you can do it.” ~Andrew, 10th grade~

“Fun means that it is something that makes me think. It’s a puzzle, situation, or debate, etc., that challenges me to look at something in a new way. It also encompasses looking at something through another person’s perspective.” ~Stewie, 11th grade~

“Fun is a rating of accomplishment. When an activity is fun for me, it is usually a challenge that I had to think through and defeat. Doing 40 math problems with little change between them, though accomplishing something, is drab and not fun because I didn’t have to think and therefore did not feel challenged.” ~Garrett, 12th grade~

The student quotes shared here on the meaning of “fun” are fantastic, and very telling.  Interestingly, these gifted students who range from ages 6-18 almost all use the word “challenge” when describing their idea of fun in school.  I’d argue that for ALL learners, having opportunities to explore and muck about in that “just right zone” is the best way to build confidence and stretch to new challenges organically– and what safer way to stretch the boundaries of one’s thinking than through play?

When new challenges are presented in the context of a non-threatening game, students are compelled to push their limits because, let’s face it, winning is fun!  And on the flip side, if you don’t nail it this time there’s no penalty, no failure, because it’s just a game!

Giving students these opportunities to stretch their thinking in this safe “play” space allows them to, as “Bubba” so eloquently puts it, “think outside the school box” … what could be more fun!?