Tag Archives: Reasoning

The Serious Work of Play

The following is an excerpt from my guest post for Everything Mom!

The last precious weeks of summer are upon us… time for a final dip in the pool, a last popsicle in the park, and some eleventh hour speed reading of assigned summer books. The excitement of returning to old friends and new teachers has kids buzzing, but the implicit message in “Back to School” is that playtime is over. While the lazy days of summer rarely mean months of idle lounging, they do provide vital goof-off time… and this unstructured play is something to hold on to year round.

important free play The Serious Work of Play

With high-stakes testing and budgets that cut arts, P.E., even recess, kids spend less and less of their school lives engaging in activities that allow for play and discovery… and their creative mental muscles pay the price. In today’s rapidly changing world, kids not only need multiplication facts and rules for comma usage, but they must also be equipped to solve problems yet to be imagined. With schools still hammering away at the 3 R’s of yore, there’s a 4th R our kids desperately need: Reasoning.

This fall, before you whip out the calendar and wedge an hour of intensive Reasoning training between gymnastics and violin, there’s good news! Reasoning and creative thinking develop naturally when kids have real, meaningful problems to solve… and you’d be amazed how many “problems” surface when kids have the freedom to simply muck about and play! Call it what you want… “Goof-Off Hour,” “Let Loose Time…” the important thing is that, as backwards as it sounds, you make time for your kids to do nothing!

Some tips to make free play a part of your life year-round: (Click to continue reading…)


Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

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!

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Michele Wong 300x200 Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

The Wong Family at Play!

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.

The Wong Family

Dr. Frank Lester was in attendance at NCTM and stopped by the booth!

“Problem Solving is Problematic”

Just returned from a fantastic trip to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Expo in San Diego! Here we unveiled our new online Brain Lab and met loads of excited, innovative educators whose students will test program during the month of May!

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At the show, ThinkFun CEO Bill Ritchie presented not only the new Brain Lab, but also his thoughts on problem solving and the issues and roadblocks this field has faced over the years. I’d like to share a summary of his message here, and invite you to join the conversation!

My wife Andrea and I started ThinkFun (then called Binary Arts) in 1985, and our vision has remained the same, to create the world’s best logic puzzles and thinking games. Since our foray into educational programming with our Game Club program, ThinkFun education initiatives aim to help players build thinking strategies and problem solving skills.

In today’s standards-driven world, however, promoting a problem-solving program without measurable results is a tough sell. I’ve since come to understand that the reason we struggled to prove our programs improved problem solving ability boils down to a simple truth…

“Problem Solving is Problematic”

Trying to claim a program teaches problem solving skills can become problematic for the simple reason that “problem solving” is not well defined in educational terms.

According to Dr. Frank Lester, a retired math education professor from Indiana University and leading authority in the field of problem solving research,

“Since the publication of the NCTM Agenda for Action in 1980, Problem Solving has been the most written about, but least understood, topic in the mathematics curriculum in the United States.”

 

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Dr. Frank Lester was in attendance at NCTM and stopped by the booth to say hello!

As we set out to develop Brain Lab, we looked outside the education world for guidance… and hit upon research being done by cognitive psychologists on Executive Function, which feels a lot like problem solving minus content learning.

While pushing forward with this, we were contacted by the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at U.C. Berkeley studying the topic of Reasoning Ability. This team had just completed a pilot study using games including Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix with elementary schoolers in Oakland. After 8 weeks, students recorded an average 10 point increase in performance IQ!  Read more

Based on this research, the team is framing out a comprehensive set of studies on fluid reasoning (the ability to tackle a novel problem). They’ll be measuring changes in brain function and IQ… and want to use our Brain Lab as the basis for their studies!

We’ve spent a great deal of energy exploring, linking to, and picking apart concepts like problem solving, executive function, and fluid reasoning in order to get to the truth of what it is our programs genuinely do for children… and we would love to hear your thoughts!

Does “problem solving” still feel like the most genuine claim? Does training reasoning skills feel like a worthwhile endeavor? Please comment and share your perspective!

Happy Math Day!

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

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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!

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

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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!

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Who can make a S'Match?!

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

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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!

McKinley 2010 052 300x201 Happy Math Day!

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!

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

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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!

Using Games as Therapy Tools

One of the highlights of my job are the emails and letters I get from teachers, specialists, parents, even kids, sharing their game experiences!  The following post is from a Child and Adolescent Therapist in Texas who emailed me her story of using Rush Hour as a therapy tool, neat!RushH 5000 HiResSpill 300x300 Using Games as Therapy Tools

Finding New Uses For Rush Hour In a Therapy Practice

Jennifer S. Berliner, Child and Adolescent Therapist
Austin Travis County MHMR Center, Austin, Texas

I’ve been using Rush Hour in my therapy sessions with families. I discovered this game in a local training by a therapist who is doing research on the use of games with at-risk youth. The game Rush Hour is helpful diagnostically to observe problem solving skills and patterns of communication between a teen and parent or between siblings. Do they argue? Share? Work together or in competition?

With Rush Hour, I set up a puzzle and tell them the object is to get the “red car out of the grid lock, you make up the rules…there is only one rule: cars must stay on the road/track they are currently set up on.”

Some observations my colleagues have noticed, anecdotally speaking, are that adolescents seem to be the group that tries to “cheat” by lifting the cars off the road and moving them! Also, overwhelmed parents tend to give up and throw in the towel and disengage before teen (Mmm, telling information for the teen that keeps running away from home, skipping school, etc.).

Interestingly, the game Rush Hour is also a GREAT metaphor for parents/teens:

  • Does the teen like to break other rules or take short cuts?
  • Siblings (or team members in a class), what was it like to “establish the rules of the game?” Where the rules fair? Did you all agree on the rules?
  • What are the house (or classroom) rules?
  • What (if anything) happens when you break a rule?
  • (If a parent ‘gives up on the game’): Have you, the parent, ever walked away when your teen gets into a complicated jam?
  • Have you ever been in a jam?
  • Did you get out of the jam on your own?
  • Have you been helped out of a jam?
  • Have you helped others out of jam?
  • What did you do to get out of a jam?

Social-emotional skills are vital to development, yet often overlooked because they are learned mostly by observation and modeling. Social-emotional skills include tasks such as sharing, taking turns, waiting your turn (very difficult for kids with impulse control & ADHD), and reading non-verbal communication cues. Also, playing Rush Hour promotes team work and problem-solving together rather than in competition.

The ThinkFun Education site is great and I look forward to the newsletters! You might consider putting together some activities around the social-emotional education that ThinkFun games offers players! Keep up the GREAT work!

How to Spice Up an Algebra Class? Just Add Games!

This post is courtesy of Lisa Kosanovic, a Math Teacher at Holyoke High School, Holyoke, Massachusetts

*Note: The GridWorks game referenced here is the precursor to the current Chocolate Fix game!

Lisa Kosanovic 300x225 How to Spice Up an Algebra Class? Just Add Games!
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 (*now Chocolate Fix) 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!

*Read how another innovative High School math teacher took this same game, now in Chocolate Fix form, and used it to teach his students to make geometric proofs!

Revisiting the Classics…

Need inspiration to start your spring cleaning?  Here’s a great reason to dust off that old collection of classic board games!

A recent article from KnoxNews takes a look at how classic games like Monopoly and Scrabble can serve as powerful learning aids!  In the hands of a creative teacher (or parent for that matter), a game like Candy Land is transformed into a tool to reinforce number sense, early math, and critical thinking skills!

Monopoly 300x198 Revisiting the Classics...

This teacher uses Monopoly to teach money management skills like budgeting and making informed spending decisions.

This article shares results from a 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University, in which disadvantaged preschoolers played a simple numeric board game four times for 15-20 minutes at a time over a two-week period.  At the end of the two weeks, researchers found students’ knowledge of math greatly increased in four different areas of number sense!

School Counselor Vicki Hill uses games not only for academic support, but also to build social skills. “I use Candy Land for a self-esteem building activity,” Vicky describes, “If the student gets a double color card, he must tell something good about himself. ”  Similarly, with the game Sorry, “if the student has to send someone back to start, he must say something positive to the player that gets sent back.”

Have ideas for ways to revive an old classic as a learning tool for your children?  Please share!

Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Here’s a photo of a real-life Rush Hour traffic jam sent to me by Laura Efinger, a pediatric occupational therapist (and big Rush Hour fan!) in Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I have attached a picture of some Cairo traffic, which may explain why we love Rush Hour in Egypt! icon smile Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!  Some is parking and some traffic, but it probably is the worst in the world, and no one follows the lines in the road and rules!”

cairo traffic jam Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A Real Life Traffic Jam in Cairo, Egypt

All that’s missing is the Red Car!

Picture 24 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A much more enjoyable "Traffic Jam" challenge!

For several years, Laura has used many ThinkFun games, including Rush Hour (which she reports is the hands-down favorite!) in her occupational therapy sessions with children in  Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I love them [ThinkFun games] as they develop the children’s visual motor/perceptual skills, fine motor, memory and planning skills.”

At a 2008 Occupational Therapy Conference, Laura presented a therapy-based workshop called “Recipes for Fun” in which participants were shown ways to use games like Rush Hour as tools to help children develop academic and sensory motor skills.  Looks like fun was had by all!

Cairo RH 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH2 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH1 225x300 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH3 300x280 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Laura is preparing for this year’s Conference which will take place at the end of the month. Here she plans to host a workshop focusing on the benefits of using card games to help children with skills such as attention, sequencing, memory, fine motor, etc.   Stay tuned for an update!

For more on Laura and her work, please visit her Occupational Therapy in Egypt blog!

Can Chocolate Fix Teach Geometry? Here’s PROOF!

The following is a post by guest blogger Sean Gregory, a math teacher at Napa High School, Napa, CA

fix 006 300x199 Can Chocolate Fix Teach Geometry? Heres PROOF!Games are a normal part of my classroom. I have always loved games personally and believed that I would be a better teacher if I put a part of myself into my teaching. My students from the past 20+ years will remember playing all sorts of gambling games, Jeopardy!, and treasure hunts. I’ve even adapted several off-the-beaten track games like PitchCar, Hamsterolle , and Elchfest into full-room class activities. While these games were vehicles for fun, they were more a source of diversion from the mathematics problems that I loaded the play with.

As a teacher of mathematics, I know that some games come with built in traits that I would love to exploit in class. So, like many others before me, I have incorporated games like Mastermind and Clue into my room to build my students’ deductive skills. I was pleased by the opportunity that I gave my classes with these games, but I also felt that the games did not play well given my restraint on time and my large number of players.

fix 004 200x300 Can Chocolate Fix Teach Geometry? Heres PROOF!I wasn’t really looking to replace Clue or Mastermind when I went to the ThinkFun workshop at the 2009 NCTM National Convention but that is exactly what happened. ThinkFun’s Chocolate Fix puzzle was a clever, compact, pure deduction puzzle. While its appeal to most people might be the fun that they would have with cute little plastic pieces of chocolate, I saw my opportunity to use it as an aid to my Geometry students who believed they could never produce a deductive proof.

Perhaps I would have seen Chocolate Fix’s application to my class on my own, but the workshop offered  ideas on how to implement the puzzle in a classroom. The activity that spoke the most to me was ThinkFun’s idea that we should not only complete the puzzle, but also share the order in which we used the clues to figure  out the solution. Suddenly I wasn’t playing with a puzzle but was seeing a plastic chocolate manipulative that could help my students prove triangles congruent.

People are natural problem solvers, but in a math class students suddenly lose their confidence, ability, and desire to work things out. Surely if I can finish a Chocolate Fix puzzle and know that I used the clues in the order 3-5-2-1-4, then I can form a geometric proof with vertical angles, SAS, and CPCTC. I was determined to convince my classes that the puzzles they were completing in Chocolate Fix were harder than many of the proofs that they could barely start.

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From 9 plastic chocolates, a mathematical proof emerges!

I had no money to put into buying Chocolate Fix games, so  I passed out scissors and had the class cut out pieces to make their own games. It is a tribute to the kids’ desire to play that they eagerly cleared all these hurdles without complaint! The class finished their hour happily working the puzzles.

The next day, I encouraged the students to solve the puzzles with their cut-out pieces. About half the class gave up on the pieces and just made it a pencil and paper thing. Towards the end of the day, desiring some product, I challenged the students to pick a puzzle and share the order that they used the clues AND write about why they made their choice.

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A student's written proof provides a map of his problem solving steps!

After school I was shocked at the quality of the written explanations (often with diagrams) I had collected. My Geometry classes do push written explanations but I had never seen such quality so early in the year. It was clear I was on to something.

The class’s excitement for the puzzle grew and grew. They looked forward to our days with it and showed their enthusiasm by giving me frequently spectacular written explanations of their puzzle solving. I put Chocolate Fix questions on exams. I dazzled the class with my own (real) set of the puzzle, and by the end of the first semester had convinced the school’s parent club to buy a class set of 36 puzzles.

As the semester ended, I put my last Chocolate Fix problem on the final exam right next to questions about trapezoids and triangles and nobody seemed to think it out-of-place. I know that I have found the game that will be part of my deductive math classes for the rest of my career.

Three months later my students and I think of Chocolate Fix as “our puzzle,” a game we enjoy playing in class knowing that other math students are not so lucky.