Tag Archives: TED


TED Talk Friday: Hearing color, confronting bullying

For Friday’s TED Talk screening, we began with a great talk suggested by one of our designers. In his 2012 talk at TEDGlobal, color blind artist Neil Harbisson introduced the audience to an amazing device that allows him to HEAR color!

In his talk, “I listen to color,” Harbisson encouraged us all to be more like cyborgs, and we were left intrigued to “hear” how our own faces would sound.

We then watched my favorite talk from 2013 – spoken word poet Shane Koyczan’s “To this day,” for the bullied and beautiful.

As I shared in my post-conference review, this particular talk brought the TEDActive audience to tears – and to their feet. It generated some very powerful responses among our ThinkFun group too – from a discussion on cyber bullying to personal reflections on our own childhood to the impact that bullying has not only on the “bully” and the “bullied,” but to bystanders who feel powerless to intervene. Many parents also shared changes they’ve seen in their children’s school experience due to heightened awareness.

I’d love to hear your reactions to either of these talks in the comments below!


TED Talk Fridays kick off at ThinkFun: Education and Introverts

Coming off the heels of yet another incredible TEDActive experience, I wanted to find a way to bring some of the TED magic back to the office. Last month, I instituted TED Talk Fridays here at ThinkFun, and the response was fantastic!

ted logo TED Talk Fridays kick off at ThinkFun: Education and Introverts

The format is super simple and agenda-less – I wanted this to be an informal time to gather and get inspired by new ideas. The conversations that organically bubbled up in response to the talks were far more powerful than any prompt I could have planned.

We started off with – who else – the amazing Sir Ken Robinson and his epic 2006 talk on How Schools Kill Creativity. With over 16 million views, this seemed a safe place to begin, and it generated some fantastic discussion about our own school experiences and the directions we may have gone if the system allowed for more creative exploration.

Next up was Susan Cain, speaking in 2012 about the Power of Introverts.

Interested in watching along with us? As our TED Talk Fridays continue, I’ll post links to the 2 videos we watch and will look forward to you joining us virtually – please share your comments or any ideas these videos spark!

TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

What do you get when you stir together 700+ brilliant minds from 50+ different countries for a week in the desert? You get the amazing brain gumbo that is TEDActive!

IMG 3429 300x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

While I thought nothing could top the 2011 Late Night Game Suite experience… only to have the experience exceeded in 2012 with Giant Swish and a wildly creative Game Creation Challenge – this year’s conference managed to be the best by far!

IMG 3428 225x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

This year’s many talks flung our brains in just as many different directions – from a former street performing mime to a guerilla gardener in South Central LA – to a giant squid hunter to Shane Koyczan’s moving talk on bullying that brought the room to tears and to their feet – the content was nothing short of awesome, my mind is still buzzing!

In between sessions, attendees had a chance to explore all kinds of fantastic hands-on play experiences…

IMG 3604 300x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

Giant Rush Hour soaked up some desert sun!

Artist Kiel Johnson created some incredible giant cacti for the DIY cardboard mini golf course on the putting green!

IMG 3444 300x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

IMG 3583 300x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

IMG 3538 300x300 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

What better way to relax between talks than with Giant Jenga!

 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

It’s a bit tough to take in all that’s going on in this photo below – but it’s my absolute favorite – look closely and you’ll see it’s a picture of a camera taking another picture of Giant Rush Hour WITH an iPad featuring the Rush Hour app – holy puzzle mania!

My geeky little heart almost skipped a beat.

 TEDActive: My Week at Brain Camp

Read more about all the fun and learning at TEDActive in this fantastic TED blog post!  For more fun photos from ThinkFun at TEDActive, visit our Facebook Album.

Brain Buzzing? Must be time for TED!

I feel like a kid packing for summer camp!

My suitcase filled with games and toys may be to blame.

TED bag 300x225 Brain Buzzing? Must be time for TED!

I am so excited to take my toys and head to Palm Springs this weekend for my third TEDActive Experience! For those unfamiliar, this incredible conference happens concurrently with the TED Conference in Long Beach, with 700 individuals coming together to watch the TED Talks via live simulcast and then engage in meaningful experiences, conversation, and activation around these ideas worth spreading!

I have been so fortunate to be part of this event for the last 2 years (see my recaps from 2011 Game Suite and 2012’s Giant Swish and Game Creation Challenge workshop!), and am thrilled to return to help make this year’s conference the most PLAYFUL one yet!

TED Active game on Brain Buzzing? Must be time for TED!

In partnership with the amazing TEDActive team, we’ve curated some amazingly fun game experiences for conference participants, from mega Rush Hour to a Caine’s Arcade-inspired cardboard creation.  I can’t wait to share all the fun next week will bring – stay tuned!


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.TEDxEdmonton logo 300x134 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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!

Bill on stage 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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…

Bills talk 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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!?

darth vader3 300x296 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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:

photo 1 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

CF players e1350931074542 224x300 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

photo 2 e1350931135991 224x300 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

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!

Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

In addition to the Giant Swish game, I led a Game Creation Challenge during the TEDActive pre-conference activities.  As the name implies, this TED conference stresses active learning through hands-on collaboration and creation.  As someone whose life is devoted to promoting the value of hands-on play and exploration, this was a perfect venue to push the envelope and try something new and fun!

TED2012 02 27 Gamification photo by Aaron Sylvan 60189 300x199 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

DSCN3214 300x225 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

I designed a workshop to capitalize on the fun of game play and to explore the ways gamification can make play richer and more intentional.  Gamification is the application of game elements to routine tasks with the goal of changing behavior, and it can be a powerful way to get people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t want or think to do.  I wanted to explore what can happen when you take a behavior people love – like play – and tweak the experience to ensure a particular learning is stressed.

For more on gamification, see great examples by IDEO in this post!

TED2012 02 27 Gamification photo by Aaron Sylvan 60232 300x199 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

TED2012 02 27 Gamification photo by Aaron Sylvan 60219 300x199 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

As my workshop was lead-up to an intense week of active collaboration, I wanted to craft an experience that would foster the values of TEDActive and encourage communication and focus through play.  I identified two powerful skills to target:

  • Improving Collaboration
  • Harnessing Competitive Drive, that force that pushes us to be better, faster, smarter, stronger

6791137942 eb1565f29a b 300x200 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

Here’s how it went down:

Participants formed 5 teams.  Teams had 30 minutes to design a creative timed challenge using a range of materials to spark creativity.  I provided prompts and everything from traffic cones to Scrabble tiles to musical instruments to get the juices flowing!

DSCN3178 300x225 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

DSCN3192 300x225 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

DSCN3198 300x225 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

The Challenges that emerged were incredibly creative and SO diverse!  I’ve compiled them into a booklet which you can download here… Several participants suggested that, with a few drinks, this could be the ideal unofficial TEDActive Late Night Games Guide, but I leave it to you to decide when and where to try these out for yourself!

Unofficial TEDActive Games Manual cover 230x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge
Download the Unofficial TEDActive Games Guide – 2012.doc

While we began by creating Challenges (not games), step 2 was to “gamify” them, bringing them together to create a master game.

TEDActive iPhone photos 013 225x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

TED Body Talk 300x225 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

body talk 194x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

TED2012 02 27 Gamification photo by Aaron Sylvan 60201 199x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challengebazooka 194x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

During Competition, Teams rotated through challenges, working together to complete each in the fastest time.

DSCN3222 225x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

results   bouncy 194x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation ChallengeScore sheets showed how other teams had done and served as a powerful as a kick in the pants to push harder and be faster.  The team that completed all 4 new challenges in the shortest TOTAL time was our winner!

results 194x300 Game On! TEDActive Takes on a Game Creation Challenge

I had such fun creating this workshop, but the real excitement stemmed from the conversations it sparked among participants on the power of play… an “idea worth spreading” that surfaced in discussions throughout the week!  See more photos of the workshop in action below or by clicking here.


 Photos courtesy of Aaron Sylvan, who managed to play AND photograph the fun!

Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

I’ve just returned from an incredible week at the TEDActive Conference in Palm Springs, CA… an idea-packed week that I spent learning, listening, exploring, and of course – playing!  This year’s talks were as mind blowing as ever, and I’ll look forward to sharing my favorites as they are posted.  In the meantime, I’m super excited to share the fun way one of our games joined in on the fun and provided a brain workout to some of tomorrow’s greatest thinkers!

6788579476 9bbaa6d1f7 o1 300x200 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

TED 2012: Full Spectrum

You may remember photos from last years TEDActive where I hosted a late-night game party for attendees.  This year we upped our game (sorry, couldn’t resist!) and brought the fun to Palm Springs in a big new way!

The incredible company Event Artistry took ThinkFun’s transparent card game Swish and supersized it, creating a 9 foot tall wall with humongous cards each 2 feet tall!  Unlike the regular game which is played with a 4×4 array, this board was designed for a special type of new Swish challenge involving only 12 cards.

DSCN3256 300x225 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

Giant Swish cards 224x300 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

A little perspective... these cards are HUGE!

We wanted to challenge players not only to find Swishes of 2-5 cards, but also to find multiple Swishes in order to completely clear the board!  In case you’ve never played before, here’s a quick intro to the game play with an example of a 3-card Swish:swish howtoPlay Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

To create this new challenge, we went straight to the game’s inventors, a brilliant pair of teachers in Israel (read more about Zvi and Gali here!).  They developed a program to generate a selection of 12 cards that contain a specified number of 2, 3, 4, and 5 card Swishes!  Once the cards are laid out, players are challenged to “Swish” all the cards until none remain.   This new Swish Generator program is incredibly cool – and opens up a whole new world of possible ways to play this game as a solo challenge.  I played so much Swish leading up to the conference I may need to add it to my resume!  Click here for more photos of the giant game!

Swish shot 300x199 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

The Giant Swish was installed in a poolside cabana – and attendees stopped in to play and stretch their brains in between the incredible talks all week!

TEDActive iPhone photos 051 224x300 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

TEDActive iPhone photos 055 224x300 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

A 3-Card Swish emerges!

Think you’re up for the challenge?  Here’s one for YOU to try!  The 12 cards below are numbered in the corners.

Smartplay Blog Challenge 300x224 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

Take on the Swish Challenge!

In case it’s difficult to read, the numbers are:

9    13   18   11

22   21   23   14

5     17    4     1


Can you figure out how to group all 12 cards into Swishes of either 2, 3, 4, or 5 cards in such a way that none are left over?  Please share your number groups in the comments please and I’ll reveal the solution shortly!

New Technology Brings Chocolate into the Classroom!

The following guest post is by Jaime Lassman, Director of Technology Integration and Curriculum at The Lexington School in Lexington, KY.  I connected with Jaime after my presentation on Chocolate Fix at TEDxLex last month, and since then he and his colleagues have run with the idea and used creative technology to bring this great logic game to the classroom!

Choco 1530 HiResSpill 300x300 New Technology Brings Chocolate into the Classroom!

Technology Integration rarely means bringing chocolate into the classroom, but in this case, it worked.  After seeing Chocolate Fix at TEDxLex in Lexington, Kentucky, I knew it would be a great fit in our math classrooms at The Lexington School.

The Lexington School is an independent Preschool through 8th grade focused on providing an academic program of the highest quality.  My job is to find technology and make it work with our curriculum and in our classrooms.

Chocolate Fix fit the bill in terms of being a challenging addition to our math resources, and it filled an immediate need from our Geometry teacher to help our students begin to build logical, systematic proofs.  In middle school geometry, students struggle to understand that they are charged with applying rules or theorems to logically explain their thinking.  Chocolate Fix would provide a perfect platform for the type of thinking our geometry teacher was looking for.

My only problem was that it was just plastic.  I’m used to a certain amount of plastic in my job, but I’m used to plastic that surrounds microchips, batteries, or USB connections.  This was just plastic!

iPad CF screenshot 300x225 New Technology Brings Chocolate into the Classroom!I first found the ThinkFun website on Chocolate Fix and looked for an online version of the game to play.  When I couldn’t find anything online, I searched for an app for our iPads.  I was happy to find the iPad app and immediately shared it with our Geometry teacher.  He loved it, and the two of us started playing in his room and immediately seeing the connection between the thinking needed to solve the game and the thinking needed to solve a proof.  What we needed was a way to introduce the game to the whole class before handing out the iPads.

Next I started working to create an interactive whiteboard file of the game.  I figured it would be simple.  I just needed some shapes, a three-by-three grid, and some chocolate.  After trying in vain to find some suitable chocolate images from the ThinkFun website, I contacted Charlotte to request some images for my SMART Notebook version of the game.  She returned something better.  She provided me with three, professionally made versions of the game in a format that we could use immediately on our SMART Boards.

(*Note: If you’d like these files to use with your SMART Board, just send me an email! cfixler@thinkfun.com)

The next piece I needed was already online.  I was directed to ThinkFun’s BrainLab (originally developed for the 2011-2012 MATHCOUNTS program) with daily resources for Chocolate Fix .  That was the last piece of the puzzle for me.  I had the iPad version for individual play, the real version for students who needed the tactile (real) interface, and the interactive whiteboard version for large groups.  Each had instructions, puzzles, and solutions.

At The Lexington School, in only a few short weeks, we have already played Chocolate Fix in third grade (a whole-group activity on the SMART Board with kids coming up and moving the larger than life pieces on their own), in sixth grade (a fun hands-on puzzle during free time), and in eighth grade geometry using the iPad version to support the building of logical reasoning.  Each group of kids fell in love with the simplicity and with the challenge, and I got Chocolate Fix into the classrooms with a few microchips and USB connections as well.

Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

On Friday, I had the great privilege to speak at TEDxLex, an independently organized TED event in Lexington Kentucky.  The theme for the day was Playful Innovation, and a fantastic range of speakers focused on the message that while not all ideas have to change the world, they can have real power simply by engaging and challenging those they immediately touch.

DSCN2015 300x225 Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

TEDxLex organizers brought together an amazing lineup of speakers and videos, all who drove home this  message through their work in diverse disciplines.  Playful innovation rang out loud and clear with inspired talks and performances, from the irrigation company exec with a dream to feed the children of Haiti to the hip hop dance crew who reminded the crowd, “Don’t quit your daydream!”

DSCN2014 300x225 Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

In my talk, I showed how – with a little creativity and some thoughtful tweaks – a plastic game can be transformed into a brain-building tool, strengthening creative reasoning and logical problem solving skills our kids need to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.  I shared the exciting work we’re doing with our Chocolate Fix game, and enjoyed an “Oprah Moment” when all attendees found out they were getting a Chocolate Fix to take home!

DSCN2012 300x225 Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

During breaks between sessions, I had a blast playing games with the attendees.  Unsurprisingly, the game table was a particularly big hit with a group of elementary students who regularly watch TED Talks in class and were over the moon to be part of this live event.  I can’t say I ever signed a game box before meeting these kiddos, and I enjoyed my rock star status as “Game Lady” for the afternoon!

DSCN2018 225x300 Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

A highlight for me came after the event, when several speakers and attendees gathered to take on Chocolate Fix, determined to persevere through challenge #40 as a team!  A true testament to the playful spirit of the day, these players challenged themselves to solve the puzzle in record-setting time (note the stopwatch!).

DSCN2021 300x225 Brain Candy Abounds at TEDxLex!

This brainy bunch worked together to communicate ideas and emerge victorious in under 8 minutes!  To all you Chocolate Fix fans out there – consider this Challenge Extended – what is your best time!?

It was a thrill to be part of this event and spend the day surround by amazing innovators and big dreamers – serious brain candy!  To see a complete list of speakers, click here.

TEDxLex talks should be posted on YouTube shortly, and I’ll be sure to share a link once they are up!


TED 2011 – Isabel Behncke: Evolution’s gift of play

“Play is the glue that binds us together... Play is our adaptive wild card in order to adapt successfully to a changing world…. will we make the most of our playfulness?  Play is not frivolous, play is essential.”

Bonobos 300x216 TED 2011   Isabel Behncke: Evolutions gift of play

Primatologist and TED Fellow Isabel Behncke Izquierdo shows how a wild bonobo ape society in the Congo learns from constantly playing.   Play appears to be the bonobos’ key to problem-solving, creativity, forming connections, and avoiding conflict.   If it works for our close cousins, why not for us?