Vincent Jonker
Image Available Soon


Freudenthal Institute
Utrecht University
The Netherlands


Th!nklets: Use and Design of Challenging Mathematical Games
Thursday & Friday

Online computer games have gained in popularity along with increase in public access to broadband networks (Kirriemuir, McFarlane, 2003). Playing games on game consoles like Nintendo game boy, or X-box as well as playing games on CD-roms seems to lose terrain to playing games online. Children aged 8-12 are a growing audience for game-sites like , where they play a variety of mostly small puzzlelike games . Playing games is part of their culture (Gee, 2003), children often play together, talk about which games they like, how good they are etc.

It is beyond doubt that for kids playing games is a motivating and engaging activity. Most educators and designers agree that playing games can also support learning. A number of studies paid attention to the relationship between games and mathematics (Bransford 2000; Squire, 2002; Squires and Preece, 1999; Terc 1998). It is a challenge to find out and understand how to use and/or design games that are engaging for kids and at the same time offer challenging, valuable learning opportunities.

The Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands ( is a research institute that has a long history in design research on mathematics education (Gravemeijer, 1994). This Institute has created two websites, and that offer informal mathematical challenges with game-like features, named Th!nklets. Last year Kidskount scored over 11 million hits (note: the population of the Netherlands is about 16.5 million). From web statistics it is known that kids play Th!nklets during school hours and at home (relative peak at 7 pm). Amazingly the site is often in the top 50 of most popular websites and can be compared in popularity to sites like

Th!nklets do differ in a lot of features. All Th!nklets require mathematical thinking. Not all Th!nklets are game-like to the same extent, most children see Th!nklets as being 'games'.

A pilot study on children aged 8-11 playing recreational games as well as Th!nklets was carried out in the first quarter of 2005 in the US and in The Netherlands. The research took place in schools and in afterschool settings. The main purpose was to find out what kids actually do when playing games/Th!nklets: how they navigate and interact with the sites and with the games/Th!nklets; what they like and don't like about design, interface and 'content', what keeps them engaged, how they communicate and interact with each other and finally what they learn.

The first findings of this pilot study will be presented. These suggest that:
- kids navigate the Kidskount site in much the same way as 'recreational' game sites
- kids need little direction on 'how to play'; Th!nklets as well as games are mostly self explanatory.
- One of the aspects of games and Th!nklets that keeps children engaged is the 'level' of the game in relation to their own abilities ('flow').
- Whether kids actually engage in the mathematics embedded in the Th!nklet can be influenced by design characteristics.


- Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A. (2003). Literature review in games and learning (No. 8): Nesta Futurelab.

- Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

- Bransford, J. D., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn. Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington: National Academy Press.

- Squire, K. (2002). Video games in education.

- Squires, D., & Preece, J. (1999). Predicting quality in educational software: evaluating for learning, usability and the synergy between them. Interacting with Computers, 11(5), 467-483.

- TERC. (1998). Through the glass wall: Computer games for Mathematical Empowerment, from
- Gravemeijer, K. P. E. (1994). Developing realistic mathematics education. CDbeta press, Utrecht.

Click here to close the window.