Maker Studio Construction Sets: Igniting Budding Engineers
We’ve got some great new ThinkFun products and programs arriving this Spring 2015. I’m proud of them and I want to take the opportunity to describe them to you. The first one I’ll describe is our new Maker Studio Construction Sets.
Our Goals Going In
We usually seek out products that build on our mission to ignite minds and give kids an early advantage. In this case, we wanted to do several things.
Stimulate interest in engineering and creativity
Make a product that was open-ended—not just one-and-done building
Add challenges on top of the builds—ask kids to make their contraption actually accomplish a task
For the Maker Studio sets, we teamed up with two awesome inventors, David Yakos and Parker Thomas; both of them are active in the Maker movement. In fact, on our YouTube Channel, we feature David’s “Pitch Video” to us because the vision was so clear and aligned.
What Is Maker Studio?
Each Maker Studio set consists of a set of parts and instructions for how to build machines using discarded household items like food boxes and plastic bottles. The parts are magical—they are a collection of wheels, gears, axles, connectors, rubber band motor and instructions that show players how to build four machines.. Step 1 is to make household items into moving contraptions. But there’s much more to it. You can create many things with the parts in each set by using different containers and different decorations. The real beauty of Maker Studio is the fact that it has challenges to make your project do something. Push an apple across a table. Lift a soup can from the floor. That’s why we all it Open-Ended.
Made by Bella – Maker Studio Gears Set – Cable Car Challenge
It Would Have Flopped!
It’s funny… just a few years ago these products would certainly have flopped. How do you explain something that is “open-ended” on a store shelf?
But in a world of YouTube channels and social media, we have a whole new opportunity to present the Maker Studio imagination by showcasing the cool stuff that kids are already making, then inviting our audience to join in themselves and share their own designs and builds.
And to prove our point, we’d like to introduce Bella Yakos and her YouTube Channel, Made By Bella. Bella is the 7yo daughter of one of the inventors. Take a look at some of Bella’s videos, and you’ll see why we think Maker Studio sets are going to set brains on fire!
This is new territory for us, we’re excited! We are seeing great interest from the Maker movement, STEM and STEAM advocates, and Girls in Engineering programs. It’s the beginning of a whole new category of products for us, products that let the players tell the story.
Here’s hoping that it works! I’ll keep you updated along the way.
The following post is shared by Tracy E., a homeschooling mother of 4 and former classroom teacher. For years Tracy has used ThinkFun games both in the classroom and with her own children, and here she shares her favorites – and the benefits she’s observed!
I discovered ThinkFun games years ago when I first became a classroom teacher. I used the strategy and logic games to help improve the deductive reasoning and logic skills in my students. Now, I am a mother of four. We are a happy home schooling family ranging from preschool to 8th grade. My children have grown up playing ThinkFun games. They LOVE them.
We have game time scheduled into our day. They can play any game, as long as it is a “thinker”.
My 5 yr old son is crazy about Solitaire Chess. It has made him a pretty tough chess opponent. My 13 yr old daughter’s favorite is still Rush Hour. She also likes the Safari Rush because the jeep can move in different directions.
My 4 yr old daughter is really having fun with S’Match. The fact that each turn requires you think about what you have to match (color, quantity, or category) makes it tougher than regular Memory…and more fun. I have seen that ThinkFun has changed the “category” selection to “shapes”. I really like this new change. I think my daughter would grasp the matching of shapes easier than the matching of categories. It is a great game with a super improvement!
2011 S'Match (first generation)
New and Improved….
2012 S'Match, Now Featuring Shapes!
My 2 yr old son even gets involved, playing with pieces and trying to match the cards. He likes to work on placing the pieces onto the game boards to match the cards. He isn’t ready to play by the rules, yet.
As a parent, I can only praise ThinkFun for the thought and effort put into all of their games. They really do make “thinking fun”. The games are good quality, durable, and most of them have easy drawstring bags, making them great for travel and taking along with you wherever you go.
As an educator, ThinkFun’s games have helped improve my student’s logic and reasoning skills. They even helped improved their standardize test scores. ThinkFun helps teach children “how” to think, not “what” to think.
My own children show fantastic scores in math on standardized tests. My son scored in the 99% percentile in math (kindergarten). My daughter scored in the 96% percentile for the math total, 98% percentile in math problem solving section (7th grade).
Who knew 5 ilttle dice could bring math to life – and make it so fun?! I love this story shared by Christan Martin, a Gifted Teacher at Colonial Heights Middle School in Virginia!
Enter Room 121. Students are seated at desks facing the chalkboard. The teacher stands at the front of the room working math problems. You hear only the teacher’s voice, and you notice glassy eyes and expressionless faces on the students. That was before MathDice…
One day, Mrs. Carter asked if I would like to teach a few lessons on mental math strategies. Having just received 100 new sets of MathDice from ThinkFun, I knew I had just the activity for her class. I explained to her the rules of the game and the skills and concepts to be developed with the activities. Mrs. Carter was very skeptical. Games in math class? And not on a “reward day” or after a test? Hmmm…
Monday morning, I entered Room 121 and asked the students to use three given numbers and any operations to create expressions close to equal to a given target number, and oh yeah, without using a pencil and paper. Students were baffled. They had never been asked to solve a problem that had more than one right answer. They seldom were asked to solve a problem without showing their work. After a few minutes, I asked students to share their thinking, not their answers. Finally, after discussing the different strategies students used to solve the problem, students were asked to share their answers. The glassy eyes were beginning to disappear.
Next, I explained to the students that they would use the same strategies to solve problems during class, but instead of solving problems in a textbook, they would play a game. Students perked up! After explaining the game, discussing the materials to be used, and playing a couple of practice rounds as a class, students were ready to play! Partners were chosen and MathDice packs were handed out. Students were on their way!
As I walked around the room, I saw students solving math problems in different ways. They began using numbers flexibly to create expressions. Most importantly, they were excited about math! No longer was the teacher the only one speaking. The room was filled with voices excitedly shouting out answers and explaining their strategies to one another.
By the end of the week, Mrs. Carter was just as excited as the students. She saw how playing MathDice and completing the MathDice activities was not only fun for the students, but it was also a learning opportunity for students. Students were using mental math strategies, just like she wanted. Mrs. Carter began to see that games and hands-on activities were not just for Fun Fridays or to fill the time after a test. Instead, they are a way to build enthusiasm and motivation about mathematics and to provide students with opportunities for discovery, critical thinking, as well as problem solving using multiple operations, exponents, and even fractions — mentally!
Now enter Room 121. Students are engaged. Students are sharing strategies with one another as they sit in pairs or groups all over the classroom. The teacher circulates around the room listening to students and asking questions to encourage critical thinking and flexible use of numbers. The glassy eyes and expressionless faces have been replaced with smiles and bright eyes as math class has become a place to not only solve problems but to also have fun! Let’s thank MathDice!
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.
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!
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!”
The following post is by Jenn Choi, whose incredible Toys are Tools blog sorts toys and games by the skills they support, providing invaluable insight and tips on ways to use fun products to draw out meaningful learning! Jenn recently shared a fantastic evaluation of ThinkFun’s Cartoon It!, focusing on ways game play supports working memory (view original post).
Brain Sharpening Games: Part 1
WHAT: ThinkFun’s Cartoon It! DOES: allows you to work on your “working memory” the memory that you use to complete tasks and more, exercise your drawing abilities INVEST: $19.99 ($17.50 on Amazon today) TOOLS: Remember to Learn (if your memory is so-so); Social Scene Helper (if you’re shy but can draw a little and you have an awesome memory)
Being a kid growing up in New York City, I was exposed to children from many different places. So many of these kids would often talk about school experiences in their former countries and even show how they learned things differently.
For example, I learned the times table in Queens, New York by folding some paper into columns and writing out each table like this:
2 X 3 = 6
2 X 4 =8
2 X 5 =10
over and over etc..
But once I met another kid from Korea who recited the times table to me this way:
He stood with his body tilting and swaying a little bit and he recited the times tables with almost no tone, almost like he was meditating. He also sounded like he could go on reciting all the tables forever. I was in awe.
Committing things to memory is challenging. We all have tricks here and there but at least we only need to memorize things for tests, right? For the rest of the day, we can just turn on our green light and go.
But what if we can’t? What if we can’t remember things not just for tests but just to function at home and at school? Here is an example of memory failure in daily living, ever say something like this? “I specifically told you to bring this here and then go start your bath but you went straight to the bath! Why?”
Psychologists will likely tell you that this is what is known as a working memory issue and some people are born with better working memory than others.
By the way, I don’t think that working memory has anything to do with intelligence because I’m pretty sure that Number 1 is an amazing thinker but his working memory is really in need of a makeover. I can easily relate to him on this as well. I go into rooms ten times a day wondering why I went there. I will even stop what I’m doing on a computer, open a new window in my browser, type in a web address, and by the time the home page appears, I do not know why I’m there.
This has got to stop! But can it be stopped? Can I help my son (and maybe me) with his working memory?
“Yes,” says Anil Chacko, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Queens College in New York City. Dr. Chacko is also working on a treatment development grant from the NIH*, known as RAMP (Refining Attention Memory and Parenting) Study which is examining whether a computerized working memory training program in combination with a parenting program will improve the social, emotional, and academic functioning of children with ADHD*.
“Working memory is not fixed.” Dr. Chacko added that studies have found that working memory can actually improve, even in a matter of one year, particularly for younger children.
Can you hear the birds singing? I can.
Even before talking with Dr. Chacko, I was hoping this could be true. You hear enough about it, know that there are tons of theories out there but how much about improving memory in children do we really know? In fact, after reading this story, I invite you to google “memory” and “training” or “games” and you will see a flood of choices asking you to try these games with prices ranging from free to the thousands of dollars. There is a penny to be made here. Maybe a whole lotta pennies. Why?
Well, take Number 1. He knows his memory is not great. It frustrates him a lot and I can understand that. Memory is very personal. So of course I go online and see what I can buy to fix this.
Okay, I know that I can not buy anything to “fix” it but maybe there are tools to help me try. It didn’t take me long to find Cartoon It!, a game made by ThinkFun.
This company has a special place in my heart because of their game Rush Hour Traffic Jam. When Number 1 was little, he mastered the Junior version of this game so quickly. I was so proud of him and this is really significant because I think he was around 5 years old and he was really driving me crazy. But that puzzle was so much fun, it just drew him in. It gave him a lot of confidence and I was so proud of him. So, of course, when I am looking for fun things for Number 1, I frequently go to this site to check out what is new.
And there it was. When I think memory games, I think about preschool matching cards. This game is not like that at all. But, are there pictures? Yes. Is there card flipping? Yes. But YOU must match it yourself by drawing it out. And if you do it the fastest, you get an extra point. How awesome is that?
I love this two-step process. You basically look at the card with a cartoon face and then when the timer is up, you flip the card back over and then draw. To me, writing it out or saying it out loud commits things to memory. And don’t worry if you are not an artist, they give hints on a board like a multiple choice question and the choices are not that similar so that it looks like a trick question. Lastly, there is a self-grading part. That is cool. I love that. The directions also give suggestions of what to do if there is a disagreement.
You can grade yourself! You can even practice by yourself!
But the game is still hard for my Number 1. After a couple of rounds, he flipped over the game board, barked some angry talk, and stomped away.
What’s a mother to think? For me, I thought, “Jackpot!” I know it is a little evil of me but hey, we hit a soft spot! If this taxed him, then the enemy has identified itself and I can use this game to help him not just with his memory skills but also teach him how to cope with feeling crappy when he has a memory mishap.
And of course, games are supposed to be pleasurable but the added dimension to why he’s upset is that he does like the game. He also gets to play with his family! It’s understandable that he wants to be successful around us. He also likes to draw and through this, I noticed something else. He draws really small! Wow! I don’t know why but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s kind of cute. I just have to encourage him to make a big enough face to fit the features. It’s a planning skill that also needs work here.
Lastly, did you see this video above? It is awesome. I still haven’t read the instructions and I’ve had this game for almost three months. I HATE READING INSTRUCTIONS! Who wants to read instructions in front of two impatient kids! This is what is good about today’s world. Video instructions make it easier for a parent to explain a game. For some kids, it even does an excellent job of getting them started.
Later, we played the game again with Number 1 and he did better. I also found it to be a natural time to have an open discussion talking about memory strategies like the fact there are such things as memory strategies and that people do in fact use them to succeed. And this is not limited to spelling tests! For example, Number 3 told Number 1 that every time she saw a face, she called it a name like “grumpy” or “excited” and that helped her remember the features. She won the game.
At another game night, my husband also told my son to look at the columns and remember the sequence of numbers as you go down the board. see photo above. (Face is in 1st column, eyes 3rd column, ears 5th column, nose 2nd column thus 1,3,5,2…) I have a feeling that this is more compensatory than Number 3’s idea but I like that Number 1 can start learning how to compensate. We are all different and once we know ourselves, we can work concurrently on strengthening a weakness but at the same time learn to cope so we can function right now and in this case, play a game and have fun with friends.
But even if I liked memory games and had a great one like Cartoon It!, how do I know how much I should play to make a difference in his life? Dr. Chacko said we just don’t know the answer to this question but he gave me a very good common sense analogy that we can apply to this equation.
Think of memory games like trying to lose weight, he said. Can you make an impact with doing just a few minutes of exercise per month? Obviously not. But maybe if we increase the “dose” we can increase the impact. So how are we supposed to figure out how much is good enough? And is working memory really a big deal beyond just getting in trouble by Mom? What about school? Is working memory helping you for spelling tests and memory games or is it more than that?
All I can say is that there is a lot more to say and you’ll see it here tomorrow when we discuss a remake of an immensely popular memory game that came to the market this year.
For now, know that as a parent, I adore this game. For the conversations that sparked from it alone, I am grateful. I also don’t think anyone should be upset when playing this game. In fact, I think we can modify it so that it can serve lots of families. We have even figured out a way to play it alone and with Number 2 who is still just four. Believe it or not, even though he is just four, when helped, he can be pretty damn good at this game. I wouldn’t be surprised if we keep playing and the kids beat the adults. This also tells me that if your child’s memory is good, use this as a social scene helper if he needs it or at home just as a confidence boost! Not everything has to be aimed at improving your skills. After all, it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun and having fun with your family is an aim for any game.
Come back tomorrow when you’ll read more of Dr. Chacko’s very wise perspective on working memory.
Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.
One thing we love, love, LOVE here at ThinkFun is hearing real, constructive feedback from players – kids, parents, grandparents, teachers… all thoughts are welcome! And the thing I love love LOVE about the work I do with our Product Development team is the opportunity to take that feedback and use it to genuinely improve our products!
Recently we did a major revamp of 2 of our best-selling games, Zingo! and What’s GNU?, and customer suggestions were the first place we started! After extensive testing and loads of revisions (Hello 2-sided tiles!), we released these updated games, and the response has been phenomenal! Check out the improvements here!
Always eager to read reviews and hear the word on the street, I was thrilled to stumble across this blog that compiles loads of Zingo! feedback from Amazon.com customers… some highlights that made me smile:
My husband calls Zingo! “crack for kids.” Fun for the whole family.
This kept my twins busy for years and saved many a playdate as everyone has fun!
Delighted grandkids, delighted grandma!
I don’t know what it is about Zingo, but it appears to be one of those games that kids just can’t stop playing.
Great Inter-generational Bingo Game!!(do I smell a new tagline?!)
For those Zingo! fans out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game! Anything to add to the comments here?
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!
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.
It’s almost that time… MathDice Tournament time that is!
Every spring, ThinkFun runs the Arlington County MathDice Tournament (now in it’s 7th year!), a fun-filled event in which teams from all 22 elementary schools go head-to-head, with one school emerging victorious!
MathDice is a brilliantly simple game that uses just 5 simple dice to strengthen mental math and problem solving skills and reinforce students’ ability to compute exponents, multiply, divide, add and subtract. The best part… students have a blast doing it! Learn how to play here.
Check out these great photos from last year’s event… can you spot the student dressed as a Math Die?!
In addition to Individual Champions and Team Champions, Math Dice teams also compete for the esteemed recognition of “Best School Spirit” to win the coveted Rubber Chicken award Looking forward to seeing more wacky math costumes this year!