Tag Archives: math

Take it from a middle school teacher – playing MathDice makes math FUN!

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!

ThinkFun’s GridWorks Game Enriches a High School Math Class Curriculum!

This fantastic story is shared by Lisa Kosanovic, a Math Teacher at Holyoke High School in Massachusetts.


I teach high school math in the sixth poorest community in the nation, and for us, math class is too often about passing our state’s standardized tests. While many of my students lack basic skills, I often see a high level of reasoning and problem-solving skills that I want to develop and encourage.

Several years ago, I bought ThinkFun’s GridWorks game for my own children, who loved it. Soon thereafter, I was working through a state test problem with one of my Algebra I classes, and I realized that the problem drew on exactly the same skills that GridWorks did! After several attempts to recreate the game using overhead transparencies, I contacted ThinkFun and asked if they could send me sets of the GridWorks pieces. I knew that if I had a set for each student, I could simply put the challenges on the chalkboard using colored chalk, and my students could work the problems at their desks.


What a success! Even the most reluctant of my students enjoyed using this game, and several came up to me after class to talk about it. One of my Pre-calculus students said she was pleasantly surprised by how much she had to think on the most challenging puzzles (I put 10 challenges on the boards around my room, including the two most difficult), and by how much fun it was to think hard in that way. Another student with serious attention issues insisted on starting with the most difficult problem, and he worked diligently through an entire class period. When he did not finish the problem, he asked if he could come back during the next class to finish, and when he returned, he stayed with the problem until it was completed correctly!


My only regret is that there are not books and books of GridWorks challenges! With GridWorks, I saw many otherwise-unengaged students using math skills to solve problems, and enjoying themselves at the same time. I will use this with my students every year to teach them problem-solving skills and show them that math can be fun!

Manipulatives Make Math Meaningful! (say that 3 times fast!)

Several months ago at the TED Conference I received a $100 certificate to Donor’s Choose to help fund a project for a school community in need.

With so many worthy projects to consider, I ultimately settled on one called Problem Solving Produces Productive Citizens.  This 3rd grade teacher in a high poverty community in rural Kansas was looking for manipulatives, puzzles, and games to give her young learners hands-on math experiences.  Her description of the ways in which she sees hands-on learning translate to invaluable life-long thinking critical thinking and problem solving skills resonates so strongly with me and the work I do at ThinkFun!

Ms. Sutton writes, “Kids who can solve problems grow up to be adults who can solve problems and choose their destiny. The resources that I am requesting (manipulatives, puzzles, money, etc.) will provide with hands-on practice during rotating center time to develop this ability, empowering my students to thrive in the real world, confidently looking within themselves for answers rather than to me or other authority figures. Such students can and will shape their own futures.

Problem solving is a hard concept for children to grasp. If children can be presented problem solving activities in an hands-on daily approach, then it will allow them to work through everyday problems and internalize the skills they need to use to do this regularly.”

Clearly this project struck a chord with several other donors as well, and I’m thrilled to see it was fully funded and then some!  I recently received photos and a Thank You package from Ms. Sutton’s grateful 3rd graders and wanted to share a few of their sweet notes!

Thanks to Donor’s Choose for helping bring problem solving to life – and to TED for the funds to donate!

Building Game Play into the School Day

The following guest post is by Sherry Olfert, a middle school math and science teacher in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  The other day, I received an email from Sherry, writing to share her excitement in discovering ThinkFun’s free printable resources online!  Sherry was excited to use these resources with her students , and when I asked her to share how she uses games in the classroom, she had this to say:

I love to use math games and puzzles in the classroom, whether they be logic, brainteaser, visual, manipulative, strategy, easy, challenging, competitive, cooperative, single, group …  I regard them as an essential component to my math and science curriculum, but also beneficial to their oral language requirements, social responsibility objectives, and work habits development.

I use games and puzzles as warm-ups, closers, energizers, breaks from routine, and rewards. But I also, perhaps more significantly, plan at least one block per week of Math Games class where I lead a game or set of games. Sometimes they play that same game the whole class, other times they mingle freely between a variety games or rotate game stations at a signal.

Games time keeps them in pairs or small groups for structured interactions, and while they feel liberated because they’re playing games, there’s always a clear purpose with clear criteria for reaching that goal. Through games and puzzles they exercise and develop their brain in ways that cannot be simulated (at least at their age) otherwise, safely.

The students learn to problem solve, to work respectfully with others, to follow instructions and rules, to care for materials, and to record their thinking. They also learn how to persevere and keep puzzling even when it’s challenging. And they learn to play a game or puzzle over and over again (often with different partners), to develop better strategy rather than play each game just once.

My students rarely have “free time”. Instead, they have Game Time. It may be spontaneous or planned, noisy or quiet, but it’s definitely highly educational!

How do you use games to encourage deeper thinking and problem solving, whether at home or in the classroom?!

Do the Binary Hand Dance!

Vi Hart is on a powerful mission to make math cool!  A self-proclaimed “recreational mathemusician,” Hart has created an incredible collection of online videos, several of which have gone viral in recent months, and this one in particular has a beat that’s stuck with me all morning.

Rock out to the Binary Hand Dance!

Fun fact… did you know that ThinkFun was originally called Binary Arts?!

And read more about Hart in this great article!

A Creative Mom Uses 36 Cube to Build Early Math Skills!

The following post is from the Pajama Projects blog. Written by a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom, Pajama Projects shares fantastic tips and ideas for teaching young children through innovative and fun at-home activities!

We love the way this creative mom took “The World’s Most Challenging Puzzle” and made it an age-appropriate math challenge for her young learner!


ThinkFun 36 Cube

This is our own way to use ThinkFun’s 36 Cube.  You can find this puzzle and the real way to use it by clicking here.  For those of you who like those golf tee puzzles at Cracker Barrel – this one is for you, but it’s a bit more challenging.

We play with this almost daily, but in our own way.  We sometimes sort by color- get all the greens together, all the oranges, and so on.  Then we sort them from shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest.  Sometimes we put all the tall ones together, and then group them by size rather than color.  There are so many ways to play with them.  They also have grooves in them, where they are sectioned, so we can group by the number of sections each has as well.  This helps improve counting skills.

Overall, we have not used this game as intended at all, but have found it to be one we go to often and are always finding new fun and educational things to do with “it”.  Check it out… it really is a good one for all the family (for different reasons)!

See the Mathletes in Action!

Back in May, ThinkFun provided specially designed Chocolate Fix challenges for the Ontario Mathematics Olympiad.  Check out this description of the event by Contest Committee Chair Jeff Irwin.

The Chocolate Fix activity challenged teams to examine clues, then work together to determine where to place each unique chocolate piece… exercising both logical deduction and communication skills!  Here are some photos we just received of the mathletes taking on the challenge!

Chocolate Fix was a huge hit with this year’s participants, and we’re so pleased to support this incredible event celebration young mathematicians!  Learn more about the Ontario Mathematics Olympiad.

Mathletes Take on Chocolate Fix at the Ontario Mathematics Olympiad

The Ontario Mathematics Olympiad, (OMO) is an annual mathematics competition featuring teams of the best grade 7 and 8 math students from across Ontario. This year’s Olympiad featured 124 students (31 teams of 4) who completed 4 contests, one of which included a logical thinking challenge featuring specially designed Chocolate Fix puzzles!

The following guest post is by Jeff Irwin, Contest Committee Chair for the OMO 2010 Venncouver Olympics

For the Ontario Math Olympics, contests are created to challenge teams of 4 students. These teams are the regional champions from all of Ontario. It was our hope to create a series of contests that both challenged the Mathlete and were fun to complete.

As part of a Basketball challenge, Chocolate Fix provided the ideal logical thinking exercise. The Basketball event consisted of 4 quarters (challenges) that were completed as a team. The four quarters were 1. a manipulative logic puzzle, *Chocolate Fix, 2. a graph match challenge using TI-84’s and a CBR unit, 3. a design challenge using cube-a-links, and 4. an optimization problem.

Rules for the OMO Basketball Challenge

The fact that Chocolate Fix is as logic puzzle that uses physical manipulatives instead of pencil and paper appealed to the Contest Committee. The team saw the challenge sheet, then had to communicate amongst themselves to place each chocolate piece in the correct position. As the students rotated through the four quarters of the Basketball event, you could hear the excitement as they completed each Chocolate Fix challenge!

A sample OMO team challenge

All teams enjoyed the Chocolate Fix activity and when there was extra time at the end of the contest rotation, the teams often tackled the regular challenges. Throughout lunch and during breaks students could be overheard discussing how much they enjoyed this event!

As a side note, my enthusiasm for ThinkFun games convinced other organizing committee members to purchase and distribute 20 ThinkFun games as thank-you gifts to our high school cabin counselors. It was their role to help students from across the province bond as cabin mates and ensure that teams arrived at the correct contest on time… so now 20 more families will have the opportunity to enjoy ThinkFun products!

A full set of contests is available on the OMO website which can be accessed by following the links on www.oame.on.ca. Thank you once again for all your support in this endeavor!

Are you ready for some… MathDice!!!

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!

Want to learn more?  Read about the skills this game builds in The Math Behind MathDice, by Tom Rowan.

Arlington Teams, including our friends at McKinley Elementary, have been practicing and training for months, and we’re looking forward to a fabulous event next Saturday!

Happy Math Day!

This morning I had the pleasure of joining McKinley Elementary students in Arlington, VA for their annual Math Day!

Playing Rush Hour makes everyone smile!

Math Day is a fabulous school-wide celebration of mathematical thinking, during which students literally wear their love of numbers on their sleeves (and often their faces!), decking themselves out in number-themed clothing and painting their favorite digits on their faces and arms!

And the icing on the cake… the day is spent playing mind-challenging ThinkFun games!

Chocolate Fix was a hit! Students built logical deduction skills and worked up an appetite for lunch as they played!

This Hoppers player has great taste in games... and sports teams :)

While older players enjoyed games like Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix, Hoppers, and many, many more, younger students had a blast playing games like Hoppers Jr, S’Match, and Ducks in a Row!

Who can make a S'Match?!

The S'Match Spinner can withstand even the most energetic whacks!

Who will be first to get his Ducks in a Row?

Our designer Josh (that’s right, the tall one from Toy Fair!) brought a prototype of a new game we’re developing, and we had a great time testing with expert kindergarten critics!  It’s amazing how much you learn about game play when you get it into the hands of a child, and kids light up when they have the opportunity to be “official product testers,” such fun!

Guess who came along for the ride?  Zingo to Go! Check out our Facebook Page to see more photos of the places this new game has traveled!

Zingo! to Go celebrates Math Day with some new friends!

Things got a little zany near the end...!

I always love the opportunity to get into schools and see our games in action — what a great Math Day this was!  Do you have a favorite math game?  Please share!