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Solve-It-Blocks : Building Children - Gender & Culture Free Active Learning

Edinburgh, United KingdomEdinburgh, United Kingdom
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

To expand worldwide a unique educational resource for the promotion of gender and culture free active learning for children aged 2yrs-12yrs+.
We believe it's the first mental and physical multi-player, multi-level puzzle that builds leadership, teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if... All children could use Solve-It-Blocks to help develop life skills?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

To involve and motivate children to:- Encourage physical and mental activity in order to develop fine and gross motor skills and placement, increase communication, concentration, leadership, literacy, memory, numeracy, problem-solving, team building and working with others, whilst teaching them about transport, geometric shapes, letters, numbers, pattern recognition, colours, algebra, computational mathematics and national identity.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution is giving children access worldwide to Solve-It-Blocks.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Solve-It-Blocks can allow children of any language, gender or culture to work together, communicate better and share similar experiences in one place. Individual and collective understanding of aims and objectives in a team game or sport, the subsequent thrill, fun and enjoyment stemming from that and keeping focussed on the task over a prolonged period of time are some of the skills that it supports. In one autistic school, the feedback was that it increased the social and emotional response and behaviour, of children on the autistic spectrum. In another school class teachers have noticed skills transferring to other areas of work. In one nursery, it benefitted children of many languages to successfully play and work together.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Our 3 years of research and development fundamentally it made a difference on the way children are playing and learning from 2yrs+. We have received high praise in professional testimony, across the education sector in Scotland and wider UK, commending Solve-It-Blocks. We have seen children who do not share a common language play this together and communicate through playing the game as there are no cultural barriers. Deaf children have played this alongside hearing children as there are no barriers to language. Children on the autistic spectrum have played this and their teachers have indicated they are verbalizing more and actively taking part. Teachers of autistic children have independently fed back a noticeable and positive increase in social and emotional behaviour, by children using the Solve-It-Block game.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The full impact potential is a vision whereby all children have access to using this learning game from the earliest stages. It allows any child, in any environment in the world, the opportunity to work together, communicate better and share similar experiences in one place and provides hope to children where education is not readily available to many aspects of the curriculum, that we take for granted. It has the potential to be a global learning game that can influence education policy and can be replicated for the benefit of every child subject to our international patent application.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have just started selling to the Scottish and UK educational marketplace. We are now in the process of developing a business model for the expansion of Solve-It-Blocks throughout the UK. This model will then be used to expand the use of our educational tool throughout the rest of the world. We have already ensured that anyone in the world can have access to our educational tool through our website, which now covers all countries of the world.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

This project is unique as it was based on research and development in its identification of a solution, which was for the greater good of whole child mental and physical development, which is gender and culture free active learning for children's curriculum. We have not found anything as holistic as Solve-It-Blocks. We know this because regular comments from professionals in the field often state not having seen anything like it before. It is not immediately obvious how difficult Solve-It-Blocks can be to play. Many teachers have been caught out by its simple complexities.

Founding Story

Stephen O'Brien's children one day said, Why is there no game in gym class for boys and girls? Over the next 3 years he researched, developed and patented a gender and culture free active learning game. He then teamed up with a known Scottish entrepreneur, Dr. Derek Douglas CBE and jointly founded the company and worked together to build "Solve-It-Blocks." Derek introduced the team of Claire MacDonald LLB, CA, a Saltire Fellow as CEO, Paul McCaffrey CA as Finance Director. It was essential to prepare a white paper on R & D with the assistance of Professor Bernard King CBE. We have been boot-strapping the company over the last 6 months and now have a website selling internationally and developing a business model for worldwide expansion.


Stephen O'Brien (Co-Founder) - Engineer/Educationalist - Full - Time. Dr. Derek J. Douglas CBE (Chairman & Founder) - Well known Scottish entrepreneur. Mainly Full-Time. Claire MacDonald (CEO) - Saltire Fellow, Lawyer & Accountant. Part-Time Paul McCaffrey (FD) - Accountant. Part-Time. Prof. Bernard King - Retired University Principal. Part-Time. Derek has started a number of businesses and will develop a team for expansion.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Please select

Organization Country

, MLN, Edinburgh

Country where this project is creating social impact

, MLN, Edinburgh

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, National government.


UK Educational Resource Award Finalist 2014

Primary Target Age Group

1.5 - 3, 3 - 5, 6 - 12.

Your role in Education


Please specify which of the following best applies:


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)

Public (tuition-free), Private (tuition-based), Home-School, Other.

Intervention Focus

Childcare, Curricular, Extracurricular, Professional Development, Community, Products or Services.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Actively Designing Space & Culture as Essential Elements for Learning: Creating cost-effective methods to infuse a school with habits, language, and materials needed for learning through play.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Whole child development is undervalued: Essential parts of development get left behind as children get older, such as healthy habits, executive function, and social and emotional learning.

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

Up-skills children earlier & better.
Increase levels of:
Physically & mental activity
Pattern recognition
Concentration & memory
Fine & gross motor skills e.g., reducing clumsiness.
Depth & breadth of communication in peer group.
Team building

We have produced an academic paper on our research

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Solve-It-Blocks is a product, that helps nurseries and schools deliver many aspects of early years and primary curricula. Skills such as communication, concentration, leadership, literacy, memory, numeracy problem solving, team building and working with others are also developed with its use. The puzzle is aimed for ages 2-12+ and can be played individually or in teams. A working mathematical model, offering exposure to algebra, computational thinking and coding via the logic, order and sequencing is required to solve the puzzle.
a) The main activities in schools and nurseries are to play the game which promotes active, competitive, physical activity and stimulating intellectual and analytic enquiry through puzzle solution. This helps children develop essential team and social skills which are required in many aspects of their ever changing lives and allows every child to improve their motor, analytic and communication skills to increasingly higher levels.
b) The activities are carried out in schools and nurseries.

c) For example: In one nursery with a class of 48, 3-4 year olds, the children were taken in groups of six to play the game at the instigation of either the children or the teachers over a four month period. What we discovered is that the blocks were played with, by that class, for one full day in every week. This highlighted the teachers and the children’s interest and engagement with the puzzle. What the teachers have observed is the team building skills that the children have developed using this game have been transferred to other activities that the children carry out. In autistic school, the teachers observed that children who normally did not take part in individual or group class activities, initially watched the game being played by others and then actively got involved. Therefore unusually, demonstrating increased social response, from children who are normally challenged by working with others, in close proximity and in team games. In a school in Greenwich in London, where the school was multi-cultural and multi-lingual (we were told this school had 27 different languages) we were demonstrating the blocks the teacher specifically chose three children to work together who had identified behavioural conditions. The children remained focussed and motivated on the task and repeatedly solved the puzzle successfully. The teacher further commented that these three children had difficulty working with others. The Headteacher of the Greenwich school said he would use the blocks to do an evidence based case study for helping his OFSTED report. (
d) See c) above.
e) See c)above.
f) During research we specifically chose 4 children to work together, two of which were French
and two were English speakers, that couldn’t converse through language but they were able to play and solve the puzzle.

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

We need to develop collaborative activities that combine physical and mental skills in children that allow them to cope and thrive with the demands and challenges they face in an ever changing world. We need to progress from the traditional ways of work i.e. efficiency and repetition; as we are now in a world that is defined by change and therefore has implications for everyone. The reimagine learning is to teach children at a very young age the skills they will require to thrive in a world of constant change.

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Learning through play is about giving opportunities to children so that they can use their imagination and create ways to challenge themselves and others around them. Playing in groups provides lots of challenge as children have to find ways of dealing with each others needs and skills, through effectively communicating and developing solutions by helping each other solve any problems that may arise.

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

To date we have self-funded. We are developing a business model that will allow us to roll this out world-wide and this will require funding. Our present model is direct selling and e-mail marketing, as well as web searching. We feel we have a business model that will allow us to expand in the UK. Our world-wide strategy is first of all to develop an “app” that has the puzzle part of the game. This will also drive “in app” advertising to our website and we are also going to worlds’ biggest toy exhibition in Nuremberg in January 2015 where we will look for partners to licence and distribute our physical game.

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

Our mission is to try and give all children in the world access to Solve-It-Blocks. Our business model is aimed at delivering this. For schools and nurseries that can't afford it we will use local entrepreneurs to fund it by explaining to them that if they want to help deprived children in their local community. If they fund sets of Solve-It-Blocks this will ensure that they give the maximum benefit to the local community, for the money they give.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

At this moment in time we would use it for the development of the App because there is a demand worldwide for mathematical puzzles that people can play on their phones and tablets. This of course does not give the physical play and team building for children. What we would develop would be 'in app' advertising in order to raise awareness of the physical product and its related challenge.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

We think this is aimed at projects that don't have a product. Our partnerships are with universities in relation to developing a better understanding of the different levels of game and puzzle play in relation to age and stage. We also have partnerships with nurseries, schools, manufacturers, website developers and suppliers in order to develop and maintain the product and our business

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.

Not yet, as we've not expanded overseas but as we expand overseas and as the partners are based in different countries, they may be able to help us in their countries market place.

VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

Every country, every school and every nursery would have had access to and have benefitted from using Solve-It-Blocks.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

As we researched and developed the game and puzzle in line with worldwide curricula it followed that our objectives were to achieve as many sustainable learning outcomes as possible. One source of this data was in the professional testimony that was fed back during research, across many different educational establishments. Attached is the manual being supplied to nursery and primary teachers in Scotland highlighting many learning outcomes.

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

Not Applicable - yet! (we are at the idea stage or start-up)

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?


Other (please specify)
Number of Employees:

Fewer than 10

Number of Volunteers:

Fewer than 10

APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Physical Play, Play with Objects, Symbolic Play, Games with Rules, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Providing a Range of Opportunities (providing the equipment and materials needed for various types of play), Educational Structuring (developing playful projects within educational contexts), Adults Participating (Ensuring adults are able to play alongside children), Challenging Play (play that disrupts - where rules are disregarded and levels of imagination are high).

Other (please specify)

Gender & Culture Free Active Learning

AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.