Tag Archives: Strategic Thinking

ThinkFun Games Build Pride and Self-Confidence in Strategies Lab

This guest post is shared by Stephanie Lewis, the Gifted Specialist at Clermont Elementary School in Virginia.

 

We have been using ThinkFun games for several years in our Strategies Lab at Clermont Elementary. All students in grades K-6 come to the lab at least once every six weeks for a lesson with me, the GT Resource Teacher. It’s been a wonderfully positive experience for our school. Children and teachers love the games and always leave wishing for more time and asking when they get to come again.

 ThinkFun Games Build Pride and Self Confidence in Strategies Lab

When we first started the lab, our primary goal was to provide students with a fun, highly motivating way to talk about thinking. Playing strategy games like Rush Hour and Square by Square would not only challenge students’ minds in new ways, but would teach them life skills such as perseverance, collaboration, metacognition, and strategic planning. It’s been amazing to watch students of all different ages and skill levels participate with equal enthusiasm and be willing to take intellectual risks when sharing their strategies. But what’s been most rewarding for me is the sense of pride that I see in each student when they master a particular challenge. They take each task seriously and keep trying until they get it. With every success they experience playing the games, they are learning the importance of effort and developing a “can do” attitude. That is so important to every student, but especially to those students who may lack confidence in school. Every student gets to shine in Strategies Lab.

As I was walking a class out to the lab one day, one of the students came up to me and asked if we’d be playing a particular game (I can’t remember which one.) He was excited when I said yes, and said, “I really like that game. You said last year that I was a master at that game. I can’t wait to play it again.” I remembered the comment I had made, but had no idea how much it had meant. I felt so good. I now see lab time as an opportunity to make each child experience the thrill of accomplishment.

We are continuing to develop our Strategies Lab program, using ThinkFun games as our guide. It’s been very helpful to have a common language across grade levels for talking about thinking. And it’s been extremely rewarding to see students persevering, thinking critically, creatively tackling challenges, discussing their strategies, and making real-life connections — all while building their confidence and sense of pride in their accomplishments.

Meet Max

One of the perks of working at ThinkFun is hearing about how our games affect the lives of the children that play them. Just had to share Max’s story, emailed to ThinkFun CEO Andrea Barthello by his mother Aileen… stories like this are what keep us going!

Max 300x200 Meet Max

Meet Max, a ThinkFun fan through and through!

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I felt that it was important for you to hear from “just another Mom” about how terrific your products really are. My six-year old Max literally is addicted to the “Chocolate Fix” and the “Rush Hour Jr.” and my 3 year old Sophie loves Zingo which has become her special game that she plays with her Pop Pop (he’s 73 and loves the games just as much!). To watch the two of them fight over BUG or both grab for a FOOT as they scream the word is really a sight to see.

For kids like Max, finding independent games that are fun, challenging, mind-opening and clever are few and far between….. but you seem to really have a handle on this niche. Today when I took a turn at “Chocolate Fix” he made a comment like “Hurry Mommy, customers are waiting!”

If you do ever need game tester, he’d be the first to line up. He’s a true gamer….. and finds games with strategy the most interesting. He’s as competitive with himself as he is with others. And, he just loves the “purity” of your themes (the ice cream truck, chocolates in a box.) He actually finds joy in that. I have caught him making up a story about the truck and how it has to pass the sports car, fire truck, etc. to get to the kids waiting for the ice cream.

That is another element of your product that really appeals to me as a parent. The conceptual relation and problem solving strategies increase in difficulty and can become quite complex — yet you have not lost sight of the fact that the ones playing the games ARE kids. Think Fun certainly serves up unique, tickle your brain challenges but the context for the games seem to be simple, pure and fun.”

Thank you for sharing, Aileen!

Enter the “Halls of Learning”

With this post I want to introduce  an incredible individual, Marvin Hall, whose Halls of Learning organization is dedicated to empowering young learners through education.  A former math teacher and lifelong lover of mind challenging puzzle play, Marvin has dedicated his life to creating innovating new learning opportunities for children in Jamaica.

marvin 300x226 Enter the Halls of Learning

Photography by Joanna Francis

The Halls of Learning Philosophy is beautifully articulated:

the cornerstone of problem-solving is creativity.
at the centre of creativity is imagination.
the food of imagination is play.
play is a path to creation.

what happens when we don’t play enough?

Marvin has been a fan of ThinkFun since our days as Binary Arts (the name changed to ThinkFun in 2004), and our retired Lunar Lockout holds a special place in his heart!

ThinkFun co-founder Andrea Barthello connected with Marvin (a TED Fellow) at a TED Conference last year, and since that time I’ve been honored to work with him and learn from the remarkable programs he has developed.  As an introduction, here is an excerpt from an email Marvin shared with ThinkFun after his initial meeting with Andrea:

I am compelled to say again that during the exhilarating experience of TED, meeting you was more than a highlight for me….and I want you to know the story of where it all came from.

As a middle and high school Math teacher, I visited Singapore in May 2002 to attend a Math conference on a mission to discover the materials and methods that made their grade 7 & 8 students rank number 1 in the world in Mathematics (TIMSS 1995, 1999). At this conference was a booth displaying these fascinating problem solving, hands-on, puzzle type games I had never seen before. That was my introduction to Rush Hour, Lunar Lockout, 4 blue shapes that formed a pyramid, some wooden blocks that made a cube and a company named Binary Arts. I bought them all… and left Singapore excited by the prospect of their use in the classroom. I lamented the thought that these educational toys were only available in Singapore and looked to Google for clarification. To my delight, a search for Binary Arts led to page saying ‘we have changed our name to ThinkFun’ and it was a company in America that made all these great learning tools, and more.

In reality, the infrastructure in Jamaican schools was not ready for educational software… for even in the rare existence of a computer lab, computing time was dominated by ‘computer literacy’ courses….which were dominated by Microsoft office… and so the rare species of a computer-literate teacher could hardly get a chance to use the lab for another subject. This made non-computer-based, non-electrical learning games the most powerful innovation that could be taken into the classroom… and I was well stocked with that ammunition.

I simply loved that ThinkFun products were affordable and offered an alternative lower cost packaging for use in schools… it sent the message that educators were considered, and not simply the retail market. That said a lot about to me about your company values.

While I was still a teacher attached to a school, your products helped deliver some of the most fun Friday Math classes my children ever had. Watching them, while fading in and out of daydreams to build my own school, I had many thoughts of game/puzzle/problem solving based courses and my “Halls of Learning” advertisements saying things like “By the end of your child’s student life with us, s/he would have solved over 1000 puzzles”.

In 2003, I left the formal classroom to focus on Halls of Learning… and so it was during my tutoring sessions that I got the opportunity to better understand the effects and design the tactics of my puzzle toolbox.

Rush Hour was the starting point, going from beginner to expert… followed by progression through the more challenging Lunar Advance. Each child enjoyed marking their initials at every stage of progress and were keenly motivated by knowing how far they had advanced in relation other the “initials” I tutored. I used Rush Hour to develop their awareness as it related to systematically solving a problem, working backwards from the desired solution and how to connect it to solving equations. After becoming an experienced problem solver, Lunar Advance was a perfect primer to logic, and with my background in computer science, I couldn’t resist telling them how it related to essential programming concepts like the if-then-else and other conditional statements. Solving a Lunar Advance challenge was like moving your hands through an algorithm while you troubleshooted a procedure.

These were also deliberate tools in building confidence and self-esteem in weak or under-performing students… because in less than 5 minutes I had them thinking “Wow, I can do this,” and for those students, Rush Hour and all my puzzle assets became as important a part of their mathematical and mental development as any exercise from their textbook.

It was sometimes daunting to stay the course when parents who have hired an expensive Math tutor to improve their child’s grade, walked into the room and see their child “playing” with plastic cars and paper cards when they expected them to be doing a long list of math questions. But stubborn belief in a good idea beyond the doubt has been the staple of my dreams. To one day have a former student tell me, “Mr. Hall, I was doing a test and solving an equation, and I was doing it like Rush Hour… it just clicked in and I realized it’s what you were helping me to learn”. (This student was also a part of my first Lego Yuh Mind robotics workshop and is currently attending Boston College)

In 2006, I increased my ThinkFun artillery with Shape by Shape, Brick by Brick, River Crossing and Tip Over. This summer I introduced my 10 year old son, Jared, to Rush Hour… and he can’t wait to get to Lunar Advance.

7 years later, I am so proud to still have my tattered and worn Rush Hour teacher bag with its holes from history, and the history it holds.

7 years later, I am still so happy to have found the gift of these puzzles from the days of Binary Arts. They are like gifts that kept on giving…..giving confidence, giving problem solving skills and giving many Jamaican children the chance to develop their thinking in a way that school does not provide….and now they give to my son.

7 years later, getting to meet you was like meeting one of the heros of my Halls of Learning dreams.

I will continue to be among your happiest customers and look forward all the possibilities that ThinkFun will continue to offer.

This summer, Marvin launched a “Puzzle Yuh Brain” hands-on workshop using ThinkFun games! Participants solve puzzles and play games that develop their strengths in logic, deduction, systematic problem solving, reverse engineering, pattern recognition, strategic thinking and visual-spatial intelligence.

Marvin Izzi 300x200 Enter the Halls of Learning

Marvin River 300x200 Enter the Halls of Learning

Check out more great photos here!  Marvin will be sharing more details on the program which is up and running right now in Kingston, Jamaica!

Playing in Traffic!

The following guest post is by Kim Vandenbroucke, a game inventor and developer, brainstorming facilitator and writer.  On her website, TheGameAisle.com, she not only reviews games but also highlights the inventors tinkering behind the curtain who come up with the amazing products.  She is also the new spokesgamer for Games for Fundraising and a writer for Games for Educators!

Recently I was on the ThinkFun website and saw the big ad for the iPad and iPhone Rush Hour apps saying “Now even more ways to play in traffic!” This made me chuckle.  Why? Because I live in Chicago where, despite a state-wide ban, 80% of drivers are texting, emailing, or talking on their cell phones while driving… so really we don’t need more ways to “play in traffic!”

iPadScreenShot 300x225 Playing in Traffic!

Rush Hour iPad app in living color!

But you know who could use an app like that….our car mates!  Yes, the husbands, co-workers, and friends who play backseat driver and insist they know a “better way” out of the gridlock by taking some crazy side street that has potholes large enough to swallow small children and Smart cars.

And youngsters aren’t much better.  Teens complain, kids get antsy; the longer the car ride is, the less pleasant it gets.  But I have a solution.  Fork over your iPhones.  Yes, that’s right, hand them over (since you shouldn’t be using them anyway!).

child w iphone1 300x227 Playing in Traffic!

Happy child, happy driver!

This could be a win-win for all drivers and passengers.  Drivers get to listen to the music, talk radio or audio book they want without hearing how long the ride is or how the lane next to them is moving faster.  And while the drivers are focusing on the road, the passengers get to work their own magic and move the little red car from the impossible cluster of cars in the Rush Hour app.  And who knows, maybe the gridlock everyone is experiencing could bring us closer together.

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

Are you ready for some… MathDice!!!

It’s almost that time… MathDice Tournament time that is!

Math Dice 2009 095 300x225 Are you ready for some... MathDice!!!

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 icon smile Are you ready for some... MathDice!!!  Looking forward to seeing more wacky math costumes this year!

Math Dice 2009 051 300x225 Are you ready for some... MathDice!!!

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!

McKinley 2010 021 300x201 Happy 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!

McKinley 2010 001 300x201 Happy Math Day!

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

McKinley 2010 025 201x300 Happy Math Day!

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!

McKinley 2010 0371 201x300 Happy Math Day!

Who can make a S'Match?!

McKinley 2010 0381 201x300 Happy Math Day!

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

McKinley 2010 045 300x201 Happy Math Day!

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!

McKinley 2010 071 300x201 Happy Math Day!

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

McKinley 2010 073 300x201 Happy Math Day!

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!

Calling all iPad Junkies… Universal Rush Hour App Now Available!

Press Release: April 9, 2010

Renowned game and puzzle manufacturer, ThinkFun Inc., is proud to announce the release of Rush Hour for the new Apple iPad.  Rush Hour for iPad is the latest addition to the suite of Rush Hour apps available across a wide range of mobile platforms.  The new iPad app is designed to take advantage of iPad’s larger screen and Multi-Touch user interface to enhance the play experience.  The universal app costs $2.99 while existing Rush Hour for iPhone and iPod touch customers will receive free upgrades.

iPadScreenShot 300x225 Calling all iPad Junkies... Universal Rush Hour App Now Available!

Rush Hour on the iPad

“It’s fitting for Rush Hour to be one of the first apps launched on the iPad,” said Bill Ritchie, CEO and Co-Founder of ThinkFun.  “Rush Hour is the original sliding block logic puzzle, and it is the granddaddy of all the ‘beginner to expert’ logic puzzles now on the market.  The iPad is a genuine game changer, and we are thrilled to again be at the beginning of a new era in game playing.”

The Rush Hour iPhone App has received rave customer reviews on iTunes for its clever challenges and intuitive navigation.   ThinkFun has completely rebuilt the game graphics to take advantage of the iPad’s innovative Multi-Touch interface and large screen.

Rush Hour for iPad is packed with features, such as:

  • The free app has 35 original challenges.  The full version has 2500 challenges ranging from EASY to EXPERT
  • Will entertain novice players and test advanced players with super-hard expert levels.
  • Perfect Score — Rush Hour tracks the spaces moved to get out of traffic jams and compares it to the shortest path possible. You win when you get the Red Car out… but you can’t claim mastery until you hit a perfect score.
  • Hint Button — If you feel a little lost and want a nudge in the right direction, the HINT button is ready for you to press as often as you like.
  • Solve Button — No matter where they are in a challenge, the solve button shows players how to solve it, then puts them back where they left off so players can learn and complete the challenge themselves.
  • Multi-language — In addition to English, Rush Hour is available in German, Spanish and French. Viva Rush Hour!

“Rush Hour was late to the mobile app market, and we knew we needed to do something special to make an impact,” said Ritchie.  The company contracted with a master programmer to reimagine how to generate the puzzle challenges, developing a system that can create and sort tens of thousands of new Rush Hour challenges!  “Bringing that program up to speed was like discovering a gold mine; it brought a whole new dimension of play to what was already the world’s most fun puzzle!”

So is having Rush Hour available at the launch of the iPad a pinnacle of success for this venerable puzzle game?  “Not at all,” says Liz Deakin, ThinkFun’s Director of Marketing and Sales.  “We are now working on a Multi-Player version of Rush Hour, slated for release this summer, where players compete for fastest times over the internet.  We are developing an online version of Rush Hour to help teach thinking skills as part of a disciplined program for families and schools.  For us, the Apple iPad release doesn’t represent an end, it’s more like a new beginning.  We are very excited!”

For more information on the ThinkFun Rush Hour iPad app, please visit: http://www.ThinkFun.com/RushHour

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!