Tag Archives: problem solving

Can Playing Rush Hour Make You Smarter?

Can playing games make you smarter?  This is the kind of question that causes many traditional educators to roll their eyeballs… and the kind of Holy Grail dream that drives companies like ThinkFun to develop our new programs and continue to innovate!

Last month, I was contacted by Allyson Mackey, a doctoral student who works in the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at UC Berkeley. She and a team of researchers had just finished a pilot study in which elementary school students engaged in a program playing Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix and several other games over the course of two months… and they measured an average increase that was the equivalent of thirteen IQ points from beginning to end!

The implications of these initial findings are huge, and we are thrilled to be communicating with this team and exploring possible larger-scale research in the near future using our new Brain Lab online program!  Read more about this exciting study!

A Brain Lab Tester Hard at Play

There is increasing evidence that playing the right kind of games with the right kind of structure and incentives can effectively teach content and improve thinking skills, and this is precisely what we aim to do with our new online Brain Lab program. This program takes games students already know and love like Rush Hour, and structures game play in such a way that players stretch their thinking, build their arsenal of strategies, and ultimately become more effective in their reasoning and problem solving!  Initial testing showed players eager to engage and hungry for more challenges, and we are currently in the midst of a second round of testing.

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!?

Welcome to SmartPlay!

Welcome!  I’m Charlotte, a former elementary school teacher turned professional player!

Like countless other teachers and parents, I’ve seen firsthand the powerful learning that emerges when young thinkers engage in meaningful game play.  With this SmartPlay blog, I hope to connect with others who have a similar passion for using games and puzzles to support and enrich early learning.  By creating a space where educators and parents come together to share ideas and discuss innovative new research, I hope together we can build a fuller understanding of all the ways in which play can integrate into and enrich the development of young children in the 21st century!

Eagle-eyed readers may be crying out “Wait, Wait, Hold on… back to that first line. You’re a Professional Player?”  Let me clarify…

As Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.”  Well, I either never fully grew up or am just about the luckiest adult ever, because Play, in fact, continues to be my work every day.

I work at ThinkFun, the company behind Rush Hour and the world’s leading developer of mind-challenging logic puzzles and thinking games!  I wear many hats in my role as Education and Curriculum Specialist at ThinkFun. On a given day you might find me with a group of first graders testing a game prototype, presenting the developmental benefits of our newest game to our sales team, or playing through online Rush Hour challenges to find the perfect set for our Brain Lab tournament.  Whether sprawled on the floor sorting Zingo tiles or writing the Parent’s Guide for our latest preschool game, central to everything I do is the need to think creatively and problem solve on the fly.  I credit my early career as tireless player of games for building these thinking skills!

When I describe my job to others, the first question is “How do you get a job like that?!”  Ok, to be perfectly honest that is the second question I’m asked… first is always and without fail, “You mean you’re like Tom Hanks in the movie Big?!”

An easy answer is to refer back to my schooling… I did my undergraduate work at Tufts University, studying Child Development and Psychology.  After teaching for several years, I completed an MA in Curriculum and Instruction at The George Washington University.  All along I was preparing for a career I hadn’t yet identified– I just knew I wanted to do something in education, whether working directly in the classroom or influencing the field at a curricular level.  I initially came to ThinkFun as an intern (and huge TipOver fan!) looking to find innovative ways to teach using manipulative games.  My position never existed before I came to the company, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would luck into a role so perfectly aligned with my passions and skills.

I use this example to illustrate the rapidly changing world we live in, where new, never before imagined jobs open up every day.  It is in this world that today’s young thinkers will be given opportunities that have yet to be named!  No longer is it enough to train children for specific career paths like doctor or pilot.  Rather, as Daniel Pink so articulately says, “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.”  The most valuable thing we can teach children is how to be great thinkers and problem solvers, and what better way to teach these 21st century skills than through play?!

I encourage you to view SmartPlay as a community in which to share your expertise, thoughts, and questions with others.  Feel free to email me, post questions, suggest new topics, and respond to comments.  I look forward to getting the dialogue rolling and learning from you!