Tag Archives: gifted

Solitaire Chess Teaches Students to Look Before They Leap!

Teaching eager young learners to slooooow down and think carefully before racing to a conclusion is a tricky task!  Helping students apply the brakes and think their way through a problem is a whole lot easier when you can present a challenge that naturally forces them to do so…much more effective than nagging reminders to “stop and think!”

ThinkFun’s new game Solitaire Chess does just this!  A single player logic puzzle based on the rules of chess, Solitaire Chess challenges players to use traditional chess moves to eliminate all but one piece in a given challenge.  The physical game features 60 challenges, and a newly released app has a whopping 400!  Try it out and you’ll see how easy it is to get hooked!

The notion that playing chess is good for you, building thinking skills through play, is certainly nothing new.  For years studies have explored how this highly strategic game improves players brain function, and schools all over the world integrate chess programs into their instruction to help build students’ thinking in new ways.  The beauty of Solitaire Chess is that it makes chess accessible to players who have never been introduced to the game.  The quick to learn game play lets players dive in at an appropriate level and build expertise and confidence as they go!

Tamara chess player 300x268 Solitaire Chess Teaches Students to Look Before They Leap!

The idea that teachers can use of this new game in the classroom thrills me (are you surprised?!), which is why I was so excited to read a recent blog post by gifted specialist Tamara Fisher on the reaction her students had to this new game.  Tamara shares her experience using Solitaire Chess with her gifted students, and she provides excellent tips to help others use this game as a learning tool!  Here is an excerpt from her post, and the full story can be found here.

“What I’m finding is that Solitaire Chess is proving to be an excellent way to help these bright kids learn how to think something through before diving in. My gifted students are often so capable at challenges that they can typically dive in and figure it out as they go. But the nature of Solitaire Chess requires some pondering first in order to achieve a successful outcome. I don’t know that there’s a more fun way to help our brightest students learn to look before they leap!”

Tamara chess boards 217x300 Solitaire Chess Teaches Students to Look Before They Leap!

Tamara also shares some fabulous comments and insights from her students…  I love the way this game enables students to be reflective on their thinking process and appreciate the benefit that extra “think time” allows!  Here are some of my favorites:

“It hurts and works your brain, but it’s very fun and challenging. I liked that some puzzles took longer than other to solve. I love it!”

“A very fun and interesting game. It really makes you think about the outcome and figure it out in your head before you go ‘hands-on.'”

“This game is nothing like any other game I’ve ever played. It’s like swimming in the ocean; if you jump right in you’ll get eaten by a shark, but if you wait and think about how to avoid the shark you’re alive!” (love this!)

“I LOVE this game. It’s chess upgraded! It makes me look beyond what’s in front of me! This game takes patience and skill.”

I love the way this game enables students to be reflective on their thinking process and appreciate the benefit that extra “think time” allows!

Have you used Solitaire Chess or another great thinking game in the classroom?  How have you used games to encourage your students to think in new ways and practice new skills?  Please share your experience below!

Want more?  ThinkFun CEO Bill Ritchie shares more on how Solitaire Chess challenges build problem solving skills in his article “Building Thinking Skills Through Chess” featured on the United States Chess Federation’s website!

So who buys these games anyway?!

Toy Fair was particularly fun as I had a chance to step out of my education/product development bubble and see the real impact of the games I help create through the eyes of the people who buy and sell them!

As the bulk of my communication is with educators, the only regular interactions I have with buyers come during my own “reconnaissance missions.”  As my very patient husband will attest, regardless of where we are or what we’re late for, it’s impossible for me to walk by a toy store without stopping to ask how ThinkFun is selling, jot down feedback, requests, critiques, etc., share new developments– and more often than not end up playing a few challenges!

DSCN0838 300x225 So who buys these games anyway?!
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For me, Toy Fair was a rare opportunity to connect with hundreds of our retailers from all over the world (without a tired, hungry husband in tow)!  I’d expected to meet almost exclusively with buyers purely interested in stocking their shops with ThinkFun product, and I was pleasantly surprised to be completely wrong!  I met so many people who know our products inside and out and have identified all sorts of new uses and populations to target with them!

A sampling of the various buyers and fans who visited our booth these last 4 days…

  • A non-profit that donates games to sick children at NY hospitals.  I learned that the 40 challenges in games like Rush Hour and Hoppers make them well suited for these kids who often tire quickly or are interrupted frequently.  This progression allows kids to complete as few or as many challenges as they can handle at a time and feel a sense of accomplishment, tackling the next when they’re ready.
  • A reporter who downloaded our new Rush Hour Android app in the booth was so engrossed he took a seat and played challenges on his phone until forced to leave for his next appointment!
  • A Temple bookstore that can’t keep bilingual Hebrew Zingo on the shelf!
  • A speech and language pathologist who reviews games for a blog!  She lit up on the improvements to our What’s GNU? game and gave me new insight on new ways to use this in a theraputic setting!
  • A consultant who uses our games as adult team building exercises
  • A hobby shop in Pennsylvania that hosts the Pinewood Derby event each year for local boy scout troops was thrilled to see Knot So Fast! He felt this competitive knot tying game would be a perfect challenge for these scouts!
  • The Director of a summer camp program looking for new enrichment activities and interested in using ThinkFun games as part of a game invention unit.
  • The developer of a new web site interested in linking ThinkFun games to specific types of learners and their strengths based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.
  • A buyer looking for products suited for children with autism.  She really lit up on our new Zingo To Go, explaining that the push-to-flip action on the playing boards is a manageable, non-overwhelming task that provides appropriate tactile and visual stimulation.
  • A retailer searching for games for a nursing home community that would to keep older adults’ minds sharp with fun, appropriate challenges.  He felt the leveled challenges and chunky pieces in many of our spatial games like Brick by Brick made these a good fit.

Returning from Toy Fair I’m even more energized to continue doing everything I can to make our games the kinds of products that make our customers and buyers stretch their own thinking and see the potential that these games have for use in a huge range of settings!

Before closing down the booth, a few of my ThinkFun buddies and I couldn’t resist seeing how we measure up on the ThinkFun Games to Grow with display… I came up a bit short icon smile So who buys these games anyway?!

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I just made it past the line!

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ThinkFun Designer Josh is all grown up!

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Here's Edoardo from Marketing! Was he stooping to make me feel better?!

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!?