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!
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.”
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!