Tag Archives: ThinkFun

Gifts for the Gifted – Compose Yourself

Thinkfun periodically sends products to me for review. When Compose Yourself arrived on my doorstep, I knew that I should find someone with a musical background to give it a test drive.  Our school music teacher, who is also the President-Elect for the Texas Music Educator’s conference, volunteered to try out the game with her class.  Here is Angela Leonhardt’s review.

image from Thinkfun
image from Thinkfun

“I was recently asked by our GT teacher to test out this music-based game from Thinkfun.  What fun my students and I had being the testers!  Although we were using this in our music classroom, anyone who loves music would enjoy this activity.  With 60 different music cards the possibilities for musical enjoyment are almost endless.

How it works:  Once you have signed into the Thinkfun Compose Yourself website and entered the “make music” code provided with the cards you are set to start composing your own music. Each card has a 4 digit number code that you enter.  You can enter up-to 16 cards in your composition. Once you are done you can hear your composition played by a professional marimba player, orchestra or both. 

Here are some highlights from Compose Yourself we found:

  • Very easy to use.  Students in 1st – 5th grade easily used the website and cards with minimal instruction from me.
  • All of the students enjoyed the music making experience and were disappointed when our time was done. A good sign in my book.
  • The students were very excited to hear their finished products.  One group of students wanted to continue the experiment and see what it would sound like if they all played at the same time.  
Compose Yourself 5th Graders
5th Graders using Compose Yourself
  • Price: Reasonable for both teachers and families.
  • We loved the ‘Clear Composition’ feature at the bottom of the screen to quickly set up a new composition.
  • Of course the Free Set-Up of your account is also a big plus. I set up one teacher account for all of my students to use.
  • Bonus:  You can download the mp3 of your composition and the printed melody line.

For those music educators out there who are wondering how this relates to your classroom instruction and standards, never fear.  My initial purpose was to have students ‘play’ with the ideas.  As an Orff Schulwerk teacher the act of play is where the learning begins for me.  I gave my students a quick overview of how to enter the card codes and told them to play, see what happens. What happens if you flip a card or move it to a different place in the score?  They LOVED hearing their compositions in an orchestral setting.  It was very satisfying to them.  With our second experience I provided more structure to their play by turning this into a lesson on musical form and elemental structures. What started as play turned into learning through play. I can also see future lessons on melodic contour using Compose Yourself.  I don’t see my class using this as a ‘notation reading’ lesson at this point.  I could separate out the cards within their reading ability but I think there are other ways to practice this skill.  I’m not a fan of the ‘lollipop’ notes as we call them in my classroom but I’m sure there was a technical reason why the programmers printed the notation this way.  This is a small minus for an overall great program and experience for my students.

My students have been satisfied with the instrument choices because they’ve never heard their ideas in a full orchestral setting.  The website talks about adding more instrumental choices in the future, which would be a bonus but not necessarily an essential in my book.”

 

1st Grader using Compose Yourself
1st Grader using Compose Yourself

For more recommendation in the Gifts for the Gifted series from this year and past years, check out this page.

gifts

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Shell Game

For this week’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post, I have another great product from ThinkFun. It’s called, “Shell Game.

gifts

The concept of the game is to place the colored hermit crabs under the shells as directed at the top of each challenge page.  You are then supposed to slide the shells around (without peeking underneath) until you think you have moved the colored crabs to the new spots shown on the bottom of the page.

Shell Game from ThinkFun
Shell Game from ThinkFun

If you think Shell Game is easy, you’re probably not playing it correctly! I learned this from my 4th graders who seemed to be going through the challenges kind of rapidly.  I sat down with them, and realized they were just moving the shells around.  To truly meet the challenge, the player must slide the shells only along the lines provided.  This makes it much harder.

ThinkFun games are always a fan favorite in my classroom, and this one is no exception.  Although it’s designed for one player, I can usually allow up to 3 students at a center with the game, and they take turns on the challenges.

This game is recommended for children 8 and up.  I would definitely agree with that recommendation.  I think younger children would get frustrated or play the game incorrectly.

One of my students came up with an interesting solution to the problem of remembering which crab was under each shell.  He turned the shells different ways for each color so he always knew the crab hidden underneath.  According to him, this “isn’t cheating, just a good strategy.” I have to admit that is a clever way to keep track of the colors as you whisk them around the page!

Some other recent reviews I’ve done of ThinkFun games are Gravity Maze and Robot Turtles (a nice center to have during Hour of Code). Also, if you are looking for more educational toys and games, I have a Pinterest Board here.

My Gifts for the Gifted series will continue each Friday through the end of December. Here is a link to last week’s post, the first in this year’s batch.

(Full Disclosure: I did receive Shell Game for free to review from ThinkFun.)

Gravity Maze

Every year I do a “Gifts for the Gifted” series of posts during the holiday season.  It’s a bit early for that – although many retailers would disagree with me – but I have a recommendation that will definitely be on this year’s list.

For my Phun Phriday post this week, I am enthusiastically suggesting that you check out the Gravity Maze game from Thinkfun.  (Full disclosure: I received this game for review from the company, but I am under no obligation to advertise or write about it.)

Whenever we have indoor recess, I always have a large group of students that race to the container with the Marble Run materials. Others will grab Perplexus to play with.   All age levels are fascinated by watching marbles move along a path – particularly if it’s a path they designed.

Gravity Maze will certainly appeal to any child who enjoys these types of activities.  It’s a one-player game, but students can work as partners or take turns in a group.  The game comes with challenges that increase in difficulty, requiring the player to design a maze using the towers of varying color and size that will result in the marble falling into a certain place once released.

gravitymaze

I really feel like Thinkfun has hit a home run with this one!  It is a great logic puzzle that will appeal to kinesthetic and spatial learners.  It’s also a nice way to expose young children to some construction and engineering concepts.

You can see a video of how the game works embedded below.  Also, if you go to Thinkfun’s Gravity Maze page, you will find a review of Gravity Maze by Tom Vasel.  You will also see a slide show of other marble/construction games that have been around for awhile, including my absolute favorite when I was a kid, Labyrinth!

Want to see more games that I recommend?  Check out my Games and Toys for Gifted Students (actually they are for anyone who wants to challenge their brain and have fun!) That I Recommend Out of the Kindness of My Own Heart, and Not Because I Get Paid, Pinterest Board.

UPDATE:  The inventor of Gravity Maze, Oliver Morris, is up for an Inventor of the Year Award! And here is an interesting interview with Wei-Hwa Huang, who designed the challenges for Gravity Maze.

Last Letter by ThinkFun

image from: Last Letter game on Amazon.com
image from: Last Letter game by ThinkFun on Amazon.com

Note: ThinkFun gave a copy of Last Letter to my GT class to review.  However all opinions are my own – and those of my daughter and students 😉

ThinkFun always lives up to its name with its products.  Over my 14 years of teaching elementary GT students, we have enjoyed and learned from a lot of ThinkFun games.  As a mother of a daughter who is now 11, I can say that our family has found them to be equally educational and entertaining.

Last Letter is one of the newest games from ThinkFun, and I thought it would make a great Phun Phriday post.  This simple card game can appeal to all age levels that know how to spell – or at least can identify the first and last letter of words.  The rules are easy.  Everyone gets 5 cards.  The dealer puts down a card face-up and names something on that card.  The first person to find something on one of their own cards that starts with the last letter of the word the dealer gave puts his or her card down, and the game continues in that vein until someone is out of cards.

On a day when the majority of my class was missing due to a threat to San Antonio area schools, I decided to lighten the mood by trying the game with some of my 5th graders.  They loved it!  They enjoyed the unique illustrations on the cards and loved the challenge of searching their vocabulary for synonyms to help them put down a card.  I was vastly over-matched.  While I was quite literal (if someone said, “boy” for one card, I would say, “yellow” for the next) my students were much more creative.  We had a few challenges to words where students would have to explain the connection of the word to a card.  For example, for the 2nd picture below, one of my students would probably have said something like, “starvation” to describe the plight of the man on the island – while I probably would have said, “shark.”

Last Letter is a great game to play as a family as it definitely broadens everyone’s vocabulary.  Young and not-so-young can easily play together and learn from each other.  You can also change the rules to make it more challenging for some or all of the players.  For example, “no colors” or “no emotions” are two good parameters to set for older players.  There are so many images packed into each card that you can play the game repeatedly and never be bored.

Last Letter can currently be purchased from Amazon.com for $12.99.  I am adding it to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students – but it is fun for all to play! You don’t have to be gifted or a student to enjoy it!

image from: amazon.com
image from: Last Letter game on Amazon.com

 

The Return of Robot Turtles

Pre-order now from ThinkFun!
Pre-order now from ThinkFun!

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.

Gridworks

GW_top2

In yesterday’s post, I stated that I would publish a post about the Vi Hart videos today.  However, I forgot that it is Friday.  Now, that my “Gifts for the Gifted” series is over until next holiday season, I would like to return to my Fun Friday posts.  So, I will “post”pone my Vi Hart post until Monday.

Several years ago, I purchased a book called GridWorks by ThinkFun.  It doesn’t look like ThinkFun still sells this book (although you can buy it for $21 on Amazon), but you can find GridWorks puzzles online, which is almost as good.  If you are looking to purchase something similar to GridWorks, I highly recommend another ThinkFun product, Chocolate Fix.

Both GridWorks and Chocolate Fix have 3X3 grids in which you have to place symbols (or pieces of chocolate) in certain cells based on the visual clues you are given.  In the easy levels, the clues are very explicit.  As you work your way through the levels the game, of course, increases in difficulty.

This link just give you puzzles 1-4.  But you can click here to get over 200 puzzles.  (Scroll to the bottom to get to the beginning.)

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!