Tag Archives: Bill Ritchie

Why Our Education System Is So Stuck

blogPic 236x300 Why Our Education System Is So Stuck

Thinking Skills: Sigmund Freud Meets Apple Pie

For years I have been ranting about the American education system, how murky and ill prepared it is to consider new ideas. I gave a TEDx talk about this in 2012: one of my slides was a cartoon I had made to describe how profoundly confused the situation is.

Don’t worry if you don’t get this cartoon… you’re not supposed to. The idea is that it’s an enigma… something so ingrained you’re not sure if you are allowed to think that you don’t understand it.

The biggest thing gnawing at me the past few years has been the “HOW” question… this is such an important topic, how could things have gotten to be this way?

And so I was very happy to find the answer lurking inside an article in last Sunday’s Washington Post, about Bill Gates and the new Common Core education standards.

Says Gates: “The funding, in general, of what works in education… is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. … As a result, there is a paucity of information about methods of instruction that work.”

So why is it that I’ve had these murky, queasy feelings about education? Because it turns out the American Education system has the lowest R&D funding of any field of human endeavor! This starts to make sense now.

OK then… with this post I’ve dug a little bit into what the problem is. Next look for some solution ideas.

And do read the Washington Post piece. It turns out that Gates is using his millions to rebuild the entire USA education system, makes for a fascinating and revealing read.

ThinkFun’s CEO Champions a BigLeap Challenge for Games to Make Kids Smarter!

From Marketwired – Aug 20, 2013:

sylvia and bill ThinkFuns CEO Champions a BigLeap Challenge for Games to Make Kids Smarter!

BigLeap Launches First Crowd-Funding Challenge Platform for Social Good: First Challenge Aims to Give Children Everywhere Access to Free Games That Can Actually Make Them Smarter

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – BigLeap, the world’s first crowd-funding prize and reward network that allows passionate advocates to drive social change via competition-based challenges, today launched its first challenge: to make education more accessible.

BigLeap’s first challenge is championed by Professor Silvia Bunge, a neuroscience and childhood learning expert at U.C. Berkeley, and Bill Ritchie, the CEO of ThinkFun games. The challenge will give children everywhere access to free games designed to improve their brain power by helping to develop their reasoning and logic skills via simple, interactive game play.

 

ThinkFun’s mission has always focused on bringing mind challenging games to children everywhere, and this challenge is an exciting new way to ensure these brain building games reach even more communities. Read more on Bill’s involvement in this challenge and find out how to get involved here!

Toy Fair 2013: Behind the curtain…

Each year when I tell friends – especially those with kids – that I’m headed to Toy Fair, the first response is generally, “That sounds AWESOME, how do I get in?!”

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Unfortunately for my game-loving buddies, this event is not open to the public. Learning the doors are locked tends to conjure up visions of top-secret toy meetings, tinkering elves, a massive toy workshop inside the Javits Center… the imagination can run wild!

I hope I’m not spoiling the magic by sharing the experience inside the ThinkFun booth…

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Welcome to the ThinkFun Booth!

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Laser Maze, available in May!

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I thought you said no outside visitors?! This brainy bird couldn’t resist playing WordARound during show set-up!

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The ThinkFun team, ready to roll!

Sadly no game-making elves were spotted this year, but we were thrilled to visit with some amazing  inventors who have created many of our great games… kind of the same thing right?!

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A familiar face! ThinkFun co-founder Bill Ritchie poses with his two toddler inventions: Roll & Play and, new for 2013, Hello Sunshine!

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Luke Hooper, one of the inventors of Laser Khet, stopped by to pose with the amazing new game he created with ThinkFun – Laser Maze features a REAL (safe) laser, we can’t wait for it to arrive in May!

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The Hebert Brothers are the brainy duo who created WordARound, we’re addicted!

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A visit from the inventors of UnHinged!

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The Costers are the inventors of the iconic Zingo Zinger!

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Steve Hayton, Turnstile inventor, visited ThinkFun to say hello!

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Yackety Smack inventor Roberto Fraga stopped by to play!

Despite auspicious beginnings (ahem, Snowstorm Nemo, I mean YOU!), 2013 Toy Fair was a fantastic show – The Toy of the Year Awards were a wonderful celebration to begin the festivities, and our 5 new games were so well-received – and we are looking forward to a terrific year!

Halloween… ThinkFun-style!

Happy Halloween!  As you can imagine, a fun day filled with candy and dress-up is right up our alley here at ThinkFun!  We’ve set the costume bar pretty high in year’s past, and this year’s celebration did not disappoint!

Check out some of the amazing ThinkFun-inspired costume creations in our office today…

Roll and play Halloween... ThinkFun style!It’s Roll & Play! Kirsten and Josh act out ThinkFun’s first toddler game!
zingo Halloween... ThinkFun style!
Alicia proves once and for all that the Zingo! Zinger is truly irresistible to children!

 

 

 

yackety smack Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Juan gets into character as the Yackety Smack "Hi-YAH!" karate chop!

 

Smatch Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Jodi is stunning as the S'Match Spinner!

Swish Halloween... ThinkFun style!
Greg gets so in-character as Swish he’s nearly transparent!
izzi Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Ashley's got the Izzi color palette just right!

rush hour Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Tania models a Rush Hour-inspired ensemble!

Bagged games1 Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Bill and Andrea get cozy as ThinkFun bagged games!

Pinterest Halloween... ThinkFun style!

I came as a ThinkFun Pinterest board!

 

2013 Halloween... ThinkFun style!

2013 Games Sneak Preview! Nic shows off the awesome superpower of the new Word-A-Round game, while Katie came as Sunny from our upcoming Hello Sunshine toddler game! Watch for these and more great games early 2013!

Team Photo Halloween... ThinkFun style!

Happy Halloween from ThinkFun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling waaaaay up north to be part of the very first TEDxEdmonton Education conference!  In the TED spirit of ideas worth spreading, this conference focused around a conversation on how learning is evolving and impacting our schools, workplaces and industries.TEDxEdmonton logo 300x134 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

This fantastic event featured speakers directly from the education world and individuals doing innovative work  in related areas.  TEDxEdmonton Education was designed to kickstart a discussion on learning.  How do we disrupt the status quo and replace traditional approaches to learning? How do we leave the politics of education behind to focus on impact and innovation?  Some incredible conversations emerged!

Bill on stage 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

The 500+ attendees included students, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and community, technology, and business leaders across K-12 and post-secondary education… .quite a dynamic crowd!  Speakers included:

  • Larry Anderson, ManCap Ventures
  • Ashlyn Bernier, Graduate Students’ Association
  • David Bill, Urban School of San Francisco
  • Carla Casilli, Mozilla Foundation
  • Stephanie Lo, TED Ed
  • Bill Ritchie, ThinkFun Inc.
  • Amy Shostak, Rapid Fire Theatre
  • Kris Wells, Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services, University of Alberta
Recognize any names on that list?  That’s right, ThinkFun’s own Bill Ritchie was invited as a featured speaker to share his work in the space of education and building thinking skills through play!  Here he is in action…

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Bill shared learnings from his 28+ years in the games industry, and his talk focused on the idea of Thinking Skills – having spent years searching for a definition and clear meaning of this term, Bill posited to the audience that people are just plain confused about what thinking skills are.  ThinkFun’s goal is to be pioneers in this space, creating programs that genuinely deliver thinking skills through playing experiences.

In Bill’s words, “We believe in the power of play to inspire kids and prepare their minds to be ready to learn, then it’s up to us to deliver the goods.”  He introduced ThinkFun’s newest Brain Lab program set to launch in November – stay tuned!

In discussing the typical way schools teach “thinking skills,” Bill shared this fantastic cartoon he dreamed up and our graphic designer created, anyone have a good caption!?

darth vader3 300x296 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

During the breaks between speaker sessions, attendees had a blast playing with ThinkFun games (even Giant Rush Hour made an appearance!)… some fun photos of the games in action:

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The conference twitter stream captured some fantastic highlights of Bill’s talk and the conversations it sparked.

  • @maureen_parkerDo you believe in learning that is more than sugar-coated academic skills?” Bill Ritchie on creativity & thinking skills #TedxEdmonton
  • @puneetasandhu: When thinking skills are subjugated to academic skills, they kind of lose their soul.” -Bill Ritchie #tedxedmonton
  • @carolynjcameron: #tedxedmonton Bill Ritchie thinking skills incude whole person – emotional,cognitive, metacognitive-through play and game-making#gcms #psd70
  • @deanwalls: Bill Ritchie says to move from cognitive to metacognitive by designing, instead of doing, puzzles. #tedxedmonton
  • @wrice1978The importance of emotional, cognitive and meta cognitive skills and engagement to build thinking skills via Bill Ritchie. #tedxedmonton
  • @mmichellelam: “Play is what makes the world go around.” – in a conversation I had with Bill Ritchie from @ThinkFun #tedxedmonton”

I look forward to sharing a link to Bill’s talk once it is posted next month – stay tuned!

An Interview with Sam Ritchie, 12 year old MathDice inventor

Last year, Stephanie Oppenheim of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio interviewed Sam Ritchie, son of ThinkFun co-founders Andrea Barthello and Bill Ritchie!

 

Meet the Toymaker: Sam Ritchie of ThinkFun

Stephanie: My kids also grew up with a parent in “toys.”  Did you enjoy being on the front lines at ThinkFun? Did you help test new games as a child?

Sam: I certainly did help with new games as a kid, though I don’t remember feeling like a tester, really — the parents were always excited about some game or another, and didn’t hold back about sharing at the dinner table. I do see, in retrospect, that Bill and Andrea always had a masterful, nearly intuitive sense of the incentive structures that resonated with kids. Some nights, my brother and I would play a dozen Rush Hour challenges before we’d be allowed to have dessert. On a larger timescale, back when high speed internet became available, my parents signed us up for a monthly plan, on the condition that we each deliver two monthly short stories for their inspection.

Seriously, though, I’d say it was memorable because of how unforced the whole thing was. I look back now and realize how much pressure my parents must have been under, starting a puzzle company and growing the thing from scratch. They never gave the impression that they were financially concerned with how well a game played; we were just having fun at the dinner table. Little did I know they were turning around and selling off the good games to other families, all around the world. (Photo above: Sam at age 10- about the time he invented Math Dice!).

 

Stephanie: What were your favorite toys as a child (excluding ThinkFun games of course!)?

Sam: I’m going to have to go with Legos. I found great joy in following the instructions and assembling kits as they were supposed to be assembled. I remember looking back on this as a teenager and feeling troubled about my lack of experimentation with kits. I was nervous at that point that I wasn’t “creative” enough, that working within constraints was some sign that I was a robot, destined to follow others’ instructions! This turned out to be a misconception; the technical boundaries you run up against when building an app have led to some of our most creative breakthroughs.
So, let’s go with Legos – and super soakers. (I actually did go through an odd Care Bear and trolls phase, if we’re being completely honest, here.)

 

MathD 1510 LoResSpill 300x300 An Interview with Sam Ritchie, 12 year old MathDice inventor

Sam's 6th grade invention is a ThinkFun top-seller!

Stephanie:  I understand that you hold a patent for Math Dice? How did you come up with the idea?
Sam: Math Dice came about for a sixth grade “Invent a Game!” competition for math class. For other reasons, we had bags and bags of colored dice in a closet somewhere — it was always easy to find potential game pieces, much like kids with parents who work as artist must have paints and easels close at hand.
I think Math Dice was the clear result of an attempt to make up a game using only dice. We have a random roll, various numbers… why not combine them in novel ways? Hell, why not make that the game? I was perfectly willing to shut the book on that one and call the assignment a wrap.

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Sam Ritchie at age 12

Stephanie: How did you pitch the concept to your folks?

Sam: You know, I didn’t, to be honest. Bill, my dad, continued to coach this 6th grade class on their game competition, and for lack of any other material brought in the old Math Dice package. (v1 was housed inside one of those exploding snake cans you find at magic shops.)

Unexpectedly, kids really, really loved the demo. I don’t think anyone at ThinkFun had really considered that this might be a game, until these sixth graders started to get so fired up. The project snowballed into a school competition, and then an inter-school competition, across state lines, actually. I’d say the game pitched itself.

Stephanie:  I love that you’re involved with bringing ThinkFun games to the world of Apps…did you ever imagine that you’d be involved with the family business as an adult?
Sam: No! I never knew what they did at the office, when I was a kid. I knew that adults sat at desks and typed, but figured they were doing homework, or something like that. It sounded terrible. I’ve since learned that I wasn’t too far off the mark!
I thought I might help, but never imagined that I’d be involved at this level. I actually didn’t know how to code, until this project. It just seemed like something that needed to be done, and rather than try to communicate that to someone outside the family, I decided to figure it out myself. It’s always felt like I’ve been working with partners, rather than my parents. I couldn’t have asked for better employers!

RushH 5000 iPadiPhone 300x187 An Interview with Sam Ritchie, 12 year old MathDice inventor

A self-taught programmer, Sam created the ThinkFun Rush Hour app!

Stephanie: M&Ms or Skittles?
Sam: Peanut Butter M&Ms. I’ll eat an entire bag during a long canoe workout. The heartburn gets tough about halfway through, but it just hurts so damned good.

Stephanie:  Favorite ice cream flavor?
Sam: I spent a lot of years as a competitive kayaker, where being a hulking physical giant is a big advantage – I don’t exactly fit this description, so I spent a good amount of time looking for ways to supplement my usual diet. After discovering that Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby had 1500 calories per pint, it became my favorite. (It didn’t stick to the muscles, unfortunately, but it was a good relationship while it lasted.)

Meet the brains behind the games!

This year’s Toy Fair was the best in ThinkFun’s 26 year history at the show – certainly the best of the 3 years I’ve been attending!  With 9 rocking new products and a fantastic message to spread to the world about the power of healthy, fun brain play, ThinkFun’s booth was mobbed from opening to close each day.  The entire team ended the week with raspy voices from countless game demos and sore wrists from writing so many orders – both excellent problems to have icon smile Meet the brains behind the games!

Among the wonderful visitors we welcomed to our booth were several of the inventors behind our new games!

A few highlights:

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Ron Dubren - Inventor of Stenzzles

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Patrick Matthews - Inventor of Distraction

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Bill Ritchie - Inventor of Roll & Play

Steve Hayton Turnstile 224x300 Meet the brains behind the games!

Steve Hayton, inventor of Turnstile

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Joyce Johnson - Inventor of Cartoon It!

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.”

 

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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!

NCTM 2010 Kicks Off!

We arrived in (somewhat) sunny San Diego yesterday to prepare for the start of NCTM today!

Bill, Tanya (aka The Puzzle Hunter!), and I checked into our super swanky digs at the Hard Rock Hotel, then headed over to the Convention Center to get our booth set up!

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The booth came together nicely and in record time, I think we’re getting set up down to a science!  We are eagerly awaiting the early morning arrival of our web designer who is bringing with her the latest Brain Lab online program which will be unveiled in the booth TODAY!

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ThinkFun's Puzzle Hunter has a mischievious side!

Don’t forget… ThinkFun will be leading a fabulous hands-on presentation this morning, what better way to start your day and warm up your brain than with mind challenging game play?!  We hope you’ll join us:

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

If you’re attending the show, please stop by and say hello in Booth 1649!

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!)

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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!