Tag Archives: MathDice

“I’m gonna roll them dice…”

Last month marked the 10th Annual Arlington County ThinkFun Math Dice Tournament… and while these 5th graders wowed the crowd with their impressive mental math skills, the team spirit performances got equal billing as stars of the show!

You may recall stellar performances in years past, like last year’s Math Dice-themed version of “Proud Mary” or this 2010 rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and this year’s competitors kept up the tradition by raising the performance bar ever higher.

The team from the  Arlington Traditional School, otherwise known as the ATS 00Dicers, showed off  impressive skills with their adaptation of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” song.  Here are the Dicers performing an encore of “Dice Shop,” with lyrics below – enjoy!

Want to sing along? Here are the lyrics!

ATS Math Dice Song - DICE SHOP Lyrics-page-001

Bring a MathDice Tournament to your classroom!

For the past several years, I have shared the fun of the annual Arlington County MathDice Tournament.  This county-wide event brings together students who have been practicing and playing Thinkfun’s MathDice game for months in preparation, and the skill level, determination, and often off-the-wall wacky team spirit is always inspiring!

For a refresher, check out last year’s MathDice-themed performance of Proud Mary!

This year, ThinkFun decided to package the Tournament experience so teachers worldwide could easily recreate the fun and learning that competition brings!  I am extremely proud of the MathDice Tournament Kit we’ve created, and I am thrilled to know this great learning game will help more students get excited about math!

I recently made a quick video explaining the basic MathDice game and sharing the contents of this new kit – you can check it out here!

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.

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!

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…

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!?

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:

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.)


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.

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!

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.)

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!

I Throw My Dice up in the Air Sometimes…

This weekend’s 9th Annual MathDice Tournament was a tremendous success!

This year all 22 Arlington County elementary schools were represented, and we learned from coaches that making the team was more competitive than ever!  At one school, 90 5th graders wanted a shot at one of the coveted 4 spots, and the school had to hold its own pre-competition to pick the team!

The winning team from Taylor Elementary shows off their trophies!


Students and their parents, siblings, teachers, principals, and even the county superintendent all came out to celebrate the hard work and training these students put in!

Dr. Pat Murphy, Arlington Schools Superintendent, welcomes the crowd!

Teams arrived bright and early… (literally, players were camped in front of the school an hour before registration, eagerly peering in windows and giddy with excitement!). Teams huddled on the sidewalk practicing, checking out the competition, and comparing team flair!


Team "Rolling Thunder" fuels up pre-Tournament!

Students get a few final practice rolls in outside!

Students and their parents, siblings, teachers, principals, and even the count superintendent all came out to celebrate the hard work and training these students put in.  The fun began with the Individual Competition, where players competed head-to-head in round-robin match-ups.

These head-to-head challenges can be real nail-biters!

The team competition followed, and teams pooled their brain power to come up with the best possible equations given different number sets.


Teams pooling their brain power

As expected, the real fun happened in between tournament rounds, when teams showcased their flair in the Team Spirit competition!  The shot at glory (in the form of a rubber chicken) inspired the best song and dance routines we have ever seen – these kids were incredible!  This MathDice-themed rendition of Proud Mary brought down the house – check it out!


I wonder if pop star Taio Cruz would consider a MathDice-themed follow-up to his hit single “Dynamite?”  The team from Oakridge Elementary brought down the house with their version – and “I throw my dice up in the air sometimes…” has been stuck in my head ever since!

See more fun videos from the Team Spirit competition here!

More photos from this incredible event are below – enjoy!

For more, check out this great article in the Arlington Mercury.

Magical, Musical MathDice!

There is a buzz in the air around here… a buzz that sounds a whole lot like the clattering of plastic dice… MathDice!

This Saturday, ThinkFun will host the 9th Annual Arlington MathDice tournament, and 5th grade teams all over the county and practicing like crazy in anticipation of the big day!  As I’ve shared in the past, the Team Spirit award is a huge part of the fun, and one of these creative teams passed on their team cheer in advance.  This made my day, and I just had to share!



Impossible not to start humming right!?

Fair warning to the other 21 schools participating, the Long Branch Lions have their brains and vocal chords tuned and ready… better bring your A-Game!


Rubber chicken playing MathDice

Counting My (Rubber) Chickens

Spring is in the air, which makes it fitting that I opened a package yesterday filled with… Spring Chickens!  More specifically,  a box of springy, squawking,  rubber chickens!

Box O' Chickens!

With the 9th Annual MathDice Tournament upon us, we’re busily gathering games, trophies, challenges… and the arrival of these rubbery feathered friends kicked the anticipation into high gear!  Wondering what rubber chickens could possibly have to do with a celebration of mental math?!  Not the most obvious of connections, so here’s my post from last year’s tournament prep to bring you up to speed!

Rubber chicken playing MathDice

Getting in a few practice rounds before the big day...


After a few trial squeezes around the office, I think I may have bested last year’s chickens with this new batch.  The squawking is louder and more frantically obnoxious than ever – think “chicken-in-a-blender” – sorry in advance to the parents of this year’s Team Spirit winners!


Looking forward to sharing more details and photos from this fantastic event in a few short weeks!

Somebody call a doctor, these kids have… MathDice Fever!

This Saturday marked the 8th Annual ThinkFun MathDice Tournament, and what a fun-filled morning it was!  We were thrilled to welcome teams of 5th graders from 21 Arlington County elementary schools, many of whom showed up at the crack of dawn!  Arriving an hour early to find kids and their families waiting eagerly at the front door was a thrill, and the excitement these players brought was infectious!

MathDice players arrive ready for action!

Players brought costumes, parents carried signs, several volunteer musicians brought their instruments to boost the cheering squad, and another team brought the school mascot to help pump up the crowd!

The "Band of Six-Siders" Team warms up for their musical number!

If you saw video from last year’s event, you’ll recall that in addition to the Individual and Team challenges, the competition for the Spirit Award (and its coveted rubber chicken prize) is stiff.  This year players brought the fun and energy to a new level with math-themed remakes of Cee Lo’s Forget You and I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas…  an impressive showing!

Congratulations to the spirited Taylor Dice Capades team for taking home the gold… or yellow!

And congrats to this year’s winning school, Oakridge Elementary, and to the participants from all 21 schools whose impressive math skills wowed the crowds this weekend!  Enjoy more great photos from this super-fun event!


Celebrating Math Day the ThinkFun Way!

This month, the mathematicians at McKinley Elementary School in Arlington, VA celebrated their love of math with their annual school-wide Math Day event!

Check out the math-inspired fashion!

The math program at McKinley is supported by incredible teachers and an administration committed to making math fun and meaningful, and we are proud to be part of this local event by providing games for students K-5!

While last year’s event took place in the school’s cafeteria, with all grade levels joining together to play, this year’s Math Day took place in individual classrooms, meaning easier transitions, more focused game play, and less chaos all around.  Students were able to spend more time playing, and teachers were better able to provide support, answer questions, and join in on the fun of game play themselves, a win-win!  It was particularly gratifying to see these players having a blast with ThinkFun’s newest games, including Tilt, Solitaire Chess, and MathDice Jr!

Several members of ThinkFun’s incredible Product Development Team also joined in on the fun and spent the afternoon testing prototypes of brand new game ideas we are exploring for 2012!

Prototype testing in action!

It is incredibly empowering for students to understand the critical role their feedback plays in the development of a game, and luckily these young game lovers were eager to tell us what they thought!  While some suggestions (i.e. a “blood, guts, and boogers” theme) may not make the final cut, the insight we learned from testing with these students was invaluable and much-appreciated!