We are 5 weeks into Summer Break. We love in a tourist destination area and my wife and I have gone through most of the reasonably priced (i.e. non-tourist trap) activities to entertain our 8 and 5 year old. Since there is only,so much ice cream one should eat, we are reaching the end of the list on our entertainment options. This is made all the more difficult considering we also have a 7 month old that requires at least one parent at all times. Yes, the older boys have time to be on their own and its ok to be bored but at some point they do need some help.

So, on our second Thunderstorming day in a row last week I was searching through our old board game box and found… UNO. I had already taught the boys Crazy 8s (well, what rules I could remember) abd did,you know UNO is basically leveled up Crazy 8s! The boys were instantly hooked on the game and have been demanding a round or two everyday since learning how to play. Al of which got me thinking why this game is so engaging to my kids.

Special Cards

Uno is a leveled up version of Crazy 8s. Like that game, players have to either lay down a card that matches the suit just played or can switch the suit by playing the same number card. Of course in Crazy 8s the “8” card is wild and can be used to change the suit too. The game play is pretty fast once the rules are learned.

What UNO does is add enhanced specialty cards! There is the Reverse and Skip, Draw 2, Wild Card, and the devastating Draw 4 Wild Card. My favorite rule is that when a player is down to 1 card in their hand the player has to shout UNO.

Classroom Inspiration

Gamification is to normal classrooms much like UNO is to Crazy 8s – a layer of fun obstacles and power-ups on top of normal school expectations. Adding these types of elements is not as difficult as it sounds. For example, instead of just giving quizzes last year I had students roll a 10 sided die before taking a quiz. Instead of grading the quiz If the student scored higher on the quiz than their dice roll they earned “Gold” equal to their score plus their dice role. If they didnt beat their score they still earned gold equal to their score. This year I,am changing to mini “battles” rather than graded quizzes. You could also use a Quizzes or Kahoot to get a formative feedback as well. Adding wxtra layers of engagement are the whole purpose behind Gamification.

Turn-Based Gameplay

UNO is a turn-based game. Each player plaus cards until one person has no more cards left in their hand. It is a simple rule but one that was not intuitive to my 5 year old. After practicing for a while I began to see him figure out how this could be used and benefit him. In a 4 player game he saw I was down to 2 cards and he had 5 or so. He threw down a Skip card (I was after him). I also watched him hold onto a Draw 2 until the order Reversed simply to play it against his brother. (Noob UNO player, Master Little Brother)

Classroom Inspirations

Turn based strategies can facilitate some collaborative activities. For example, in a basic brainstorming session the loudest person or the “know-it-all” might dominate the discussion. If, however, a strategy is used where everyone in the group says two ideas or shares two questions before a discussion can take place it may help that situation. One of my favorite history lesson strategies is the Student Academic Conference. Two student groups are given the same primary sources and a question. The groups are assigned a position to take regardimg the question and then read the sources to find evidence to support their position. When time is up Group A shates their position while Group B listens and takes notes. Group B has to repeat (not argue against) Group A’s evidence until Group A affirms Group B understands. Then the roles reverse. After Group A repeats Group Bs position then the groups must drop their assigned positions and come to a consensus to answer the question. (Thank you to Stanford History Education Group’s Reading Like A Historian) The turn based format prevents the discussion turnimg into a debate. Similar strategies can,be used in Socratic Seminars, Fishbowl Activities, and While Group Debates.

Social Fun

I think the most important UNO Inspiration is that Fun is important and that just beimg with people and playing a game is engagimg and fun. These UNO times have been a great opportunity to get the kids to turn off the tv and put down their Kindles and just laugh with their family members.

Classroom Inspiration

School can be hard but it doesn’t have to be joyless. Letting students have social fun doesn’t not need to be avoided. Also, I know that we in education are often told competition in the classroom is bad but I disagree. UNO is not a team game but it has helped lift the spirits of my young kids on boring rainy days. At first it was difficult for them to lose a game but it is just a game and it is ok if they dont win. Life is hard and everyone takes a loss now and then. Games allow us to learn how to lose and then try again. They quickly realized that the next game was starting as soon as the deck was shuffled and while we played we talked and learned and loved. Competition isnt evil – It is collaborative.