Category Archives: Games in the Classroom

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

Want big fun? Super-size your games!

We’re all about the value of hands-on play here at ThinkFun, with games and puzzles designed to challenge players to think with their hands, encouraging tactile learning and building new understandings and strategies by manipulating pieces.  But why should the hands have all the fun?!

This week’s giant office-wide craft project to create two massive game mats for the Destination Imagination Global Finals got me thinking about the other ThinkFun games that have been super-sized over the years!

Back in February, Giant Swish was unveiled at the TEDActive Conference with an entirely new way to play!

Giant Swish in action at TEDActive!

Any time I mention big games, I always hear, “Wouldn’t it be AWESOME to make a giant Rush Hour game?!”  It’s been done!  At the 2007 International Puzzle Party (IPP), puzzle-lovers from all over the world came together to take on a massive Rush Hour challenge – I must say I’ve never seen such cheerful people stuck in gridlock !

Giant Rush Hour is a crowd-pleaser at the International Puzzle Party!

This photo shows a huge version of our River Crossing game being played by none other than Andrea Gilbert, the game’s inventor!  This large hands-on puzzle was featured at the Delft Science Museum in 2006.

Andrea Gilbert, the inventor herself, attempts a River Crossing challenge!

Slightly less fancy, but no less impressive, is another fantastic version of River Crossing – this one constructed by a teacher and his students in Mumbai, India!

Students in Mumbai, India construct a massive River Crossing game!

When Solitaire Chess was still in the development process, ThinkFun created gigantic versions of the game based on the most current prototypes!  During a company event, employees teamed up to try their hand at the test challenges and experience the game play in a BIG way!

ThinkFun employees puzzle over a Solitaire Chess challenge!

During this same 2009 company event, we tested out another new game that hadn’t yet been released… any guesses what this one became!?

I'm "knot" giving any clues...!

Here, a creative teacher in Vermont turned her students into candies for human Chocolate Fix!


Finally, here are the 2 most recent additions to our Giant Game collection, both featured at our Destination ImagiNation booth!  Check out Human Hoppers and Live Action Solitaire Chess!

What is it about playing a large-scale version of a game that makes it more engaging?  For our single-player games like Rush Hour, blowing them up into massive versions transforms them into collaborative, multi-player challenges – great for team building and encouraging effective communication!

Have you played a giant version of a game that’s been more fun than the original?  Please share!

Feed Your Students Brain Candy!

This email just made my day – as a former teacher, I get such a thrill knowing our games and puzzles are not only encouraging students to open their minds, they’ve become the carrot (or in this case – candy!) that students looks forward to!  When brain-building games feel more like PLAY and less like work, I say mission accomplished!


Mmmm, Brain Candy!


“I know this is taking up valuable time; however, I’d like to let you know that I encourage lateral and spatial thinking as well in my science classes.  I teach junior high and high school science at a small school in Nebraska.  I have a total of 66 students in 6 different science classes; my largest class has 17 and my smallest has 3. 

I try to incorporate my personally-owned ThinkFun games on days that I can accomodate the most students.  There are some days that more than half the class is gone for activities or it’s a shortened day before a holiday.  I want the kids to still be engaged, so I have come up with “Brain Candy” days where they get a “day off” of regular work, but they have the opportunity to stimulate their brains with ThinkFun “candy”.  Thank you for having products that will fit my philosophy!”

ThinkFun is Headed to Destination ImagiNation!

I am THRILLED to pack my bags for Knoxville, Tennessee next week for the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals!  ThinkFun recently signed on as sponsors of this incredible organization, and we can’t WAIT to kick off a year of fun together with this amazing event!  20,000 people from all over the world are expected to descend on the University of Tennessee campus for a week of innovation, creativity, and FUN… and ThinkFun will be right in the thick of the action!  If these photos from years past are any indication, we are in for a wildly fun time!

As a quick background, Destination ImagiNation is an extraordinary non-profit  that provides educational programs for students to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving – it reaches 125,000+ students across the U.S. and in more than 30 countries each year!  Student teams solve open-ended Challenges and present their solutions at Tournaments, and teams are tested to think on their feet, work together and devise original solutions. Next week’s Global Finals is an incredible celebration of the top teams from all over the globe – and we can’t wait to see this international brain power in action!


These kids are seriously creative, and we are so excited to bring some really out-of-the box new challenges and games to put their think-on-your-feet problem solving skills to the test!  We’ll be showcasing some fantastic ThinkFun games, but most exciting are the activities we have planned!  Over the course of the week we’ll be inviting kids to compete in creative challenges using some of our best games!  Participants will create their own puzzles and even play GIANT human versions of some of our favorite logic games!


Here’s a sneak peek at some of the prep work going on in the ThinkFun offices as I type this post… can you guess which games we’re transforming into giant kids-as-pieces versions!?


In the Knoxville area?  This event is open to the public, and we would love to invite you to play with us at the DI Expo Hall! Check out the Global Finals website for more information.

I Throw My Dice up in the Air Sometimes…

This weekend’s 9th Annual MathDice Tournament was a tremendous success!

This year all 22 Arlington County elementary schools were represented, and we learned from coaches that making the team was more competitive than ever!  At one school, 90 5th graders wanted a shot at one of the coveted 4 spots, and the school had to hold its own pre-competition to pick the team!

The winning team from Taylor Elementary shows off their trophies!


Students and their parents, siblings, teachers, principals, and even the county superintendent all came out to celebrate the hard work and training these students put in!

Dr. Pat Murphy, Arlington Schools Superintendent, welcomes the crowd!

Teams arrived bright and early… (literally, players were camped in front of the school an hour before registration, eagerly peering in windows and giddy with excitement!). Teams huddled on the sidewalk practicing, checking out the competition, and comparing team flair!


Team "Rolling Thunder" fuels up pre-Tournament!

Students get a few final practice rolls in outside!

Students and their parents, siblings, teachers, principals, and even the count superintendent all came out to celebrate the hard work and training these students put in.  The fun began with the Individual Competition, where players competed head-to-head in round-robin match-ups.

These head-to-head challenges can be real nail-biters!

The team competition followed, and teams pooled their brain power to come up with the best possible equations given different number sets.


Teams pooling their brain power

As expected, the real fun happened in between tournament rounds, when teams showcased their flair in the Team Spirit competition!  The shot at glory (in the form of a rubber chicken) inspired the best song and dance routines we have ever seen – these kids were incredible!  This MathDice-themed rendition of Proud Mary brought down the house – check it out!


I wonder if pop star Taio Cruz would consider a MathDice-themed follow-up to his hit single “Dynamite?”  The team from Oakridge Elementary brought down the house with their version – and “I throw my dice up in the air sometimes…” has been stuck in my head ever since!

See more fun videos from the Team Spirit competition here!

More photos from this incredible event are below – enjoy!

For more, check out this great article in the Arlington Mercury.