Artifact 3 : More Than a Game


Rationale for program standards and goals:

Primary Alignments:

Standard 4: This lesson was an extension of a practice I used frequently as a teacher, using UNO cards to create unique problems for student.

Standard 6: I presented my original practice to a group of peers and revised and extended what I had been doing in response to inquiry and collaboration.

Goal 3: This lesson represents a refining and amplifying of a teaching practice that can only come through participation in peer review. At the same time, I reviewed and offered suggestions on my peer partner's work.

Secondary Alignments:

Standard 1: The flexibility of the cards allows for easy adjustment to fit student need.

Standard 2: This is a way to add a manipulative and differentiated learning into the upper grades.

Goal 1: Throughout the process of writing and revising the lesson, I used educational theory and peer feedback to revise and expand my lesson.

Goal 2: The lesson represents the continuation and extension of a successful teaching practice.

More Than a Game: Using UNO cards to achieve my teaching objectives

Chris Kjorness

Michigan State University


For my teaching artifact I chose UNO cards. I have included a photo of the cards and a guide sheet listing some of the activities and skills I use them to teach at the end of this document.

The cards initially solved a problem of practice: When working on math problems with whiteboards in a small group, I noticed that cheating was rampant. Many students would either copy off their neighbor or just doodle until we went over the problem together. I also noticed that some students just needed a little practice, while others needed a lot of support. In the name of differentiation and personal accountability, I started giving each student a different problem. I found it hard to generate random numbers, so the cards became a way for me to save myself some mental work. I discovered that the cards added a certain mystique to our practice: this is not some problem that your teacher made up for you, it is the problem the universe has ordained you must solve.

I now use UNO cards with all of my students. In kindergarten, we use them to practice number recognition, sorting by number or color, or from least to greatest.  In middle school, I use them to generate division and multiplication problems. We will also play fluency games games like 24 and multiplication war slap-it. The cards can even be used for pre-algebra skills like the four basic operations with positive and negative integers, as well as order of operations.

The cards align with many of my objectives of quality teaching.  They allow me to consistently generate unique material that can be fit to a student’s particular needs. For example, when learning the standard algorithm for 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication, I will pull cards from a deck that only includes 0-5, allowing the student to focus on the process. As the student progresses, 6,7,8 & 9s are added. This is one of the ways that the cards help me “coordinate and adjust instruction during the lesson,” as suggested in Number 6 of the Highly-Leveraged Practices (Teaching Works).

I also use UNO cards to promote depth. When working with students learning to regroup, it is common for them to start trying to regroup every subtraction problem, even when it is not necessary. Using the cards, I do not have to preplan the interspersal of problems that do not require regrouping, it happens naturally. In this way, the UNO cards afford many opportunities for review, reteaching, and testing of students understanding of when to apply a particular concept.

Krypto is another great example of teaching for depth. A student is given five cards and told to use any four operations to get to the number one. Initially, students are allowed to list out the steps line by line, with each line being its own operation. Once they get the hang of the game, I review order of operations and then have the students arrange the three or four operations into a single equation. I particularly like this exercise because it asks students to do something they are rarely asked to do, create their own mathematical equations. This allows for an activity that can be scaffolded but also pushes depth of knowledge.

Finally, the cards show that I care. While this care shows up in the differentiated work we are able to do with them, a quick game of UNO to close out a hectic Friday afternoon gives me a chance to show that I care about them as people. I find that using the cards both as a tool for learning and recreation starts to blur some of the hard lines my at-risk students have drawn between learning and fun. One of my more intransigent 5th grade students, whose father was incarcerated when the student was eight years old, often borrows the cards at recess, so he can play with his friends. This necessitates me stopping by his classroom after lunch to get my cards back, giving us another moment to check in with one another, a good example of the respectful relationship building suggested in #10 of the Highly-Leveraged Practices (Teaching Works) and the actions of caring studied by McBee (2007).

While I am happy with what I have done thus far with the UNO cards, I feel there is much more that could be done with them. Specifically, I would like to think of ways to give students more autonomous projects and activities with the cards. In every instance, mentioned above I have used the cards to generate random problems for the students to solve. I am interested in exploring a more constructivist framework as described by Fenstermacher and Richardson (2005, p. 203-206) What would a student-led UNO card activity look like?


Fenstermacher, G. D., & Richardson, V. (2005). On making determinations of quality in teaching. Teachers College Record, 107(1), 186-213.

McBee, R. H. (2007). What it means to care: How educators conceptualize and actualize caring. Action in Teacher Education, 29(3), 33-42.

High-leverage practices. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.teachingworks.org/work-of-teaching/high-leverage-practices

Things You Can Do With UNO Cards

Set of UNO cards with non-numerical cards removed. Note: The blank wild card can be written on with a dry erase marker. In this case, to create a greater than symbol.

Note: I teach as part of an intervention program, meaning all of the students on my caseload are in the bottom quartile, so some these activities are below standard grade level.

Peer-coaching Reflection

This was my first experience in this kind of protocol. This process has influenced my thinking about the artifact, as well as the broader topic of teacher personality and development.

A central element to the assignment was the Initial Stance on Quality Teaching we wrote in the previous module. This document clearly outlined what we thought quality teaching was. It was interesting to compare my stance on quality teaching to an actual example of my teaching. I wanted to know how I could use the UNO cards I was already using to work on higher order skills, which was an important element of my initial stance that was sorely lacking in my current use of the cards.

During the conference we were required to refrain from judgement and orient our feedback toward constructive, actionable ideas that aligned with our partners stance on quality teaching. While this part of the protocol took a minute to warm up to, it proved to be the most useful. By withholding judgement and striving to help your partner achieve their goals, you are able to give them new perspectives and options that work and feel right for them. This allows the teacher that is being coached to grow and develop in a way that comports with their values. In Olivia’s case, I noticed that having her students work in partners with the artifact lesson would allow her to gather better information on her students understanding of concepts. I also saw an opportunity for her to teach compassion and empathy by simply adding a couple of prompts. I do still wonder if I could help her more with a better understanding the unique dynamics of a kindergarten classroom.

The feedback that I got from Olivia was incredibly helpful. It was a little like when you are getting frustrated trying to go in one door of a building and then someone opens a door on the other side. I had been so focused on trying to get students to the top of Bloom’s pyramid (creating) that I was neglecting other higher level applications–specifically, analyzing. She shared with me a number of strategies for soliciting students thinking in a given problem. I definitely plan to incorporate these “number talks” into my activities next year.

This process and our in class readings have really made me think about the incredibly personal nature of teaching. For teachers to be proud and passionate about their work, they need to play an active role in their development of their teaching. This is best done through personal study, practice and reflection combined with support and feedback from a community of teachers. It is with these things in mind that I wrote the following letter, imagining what a school built on intrinsic motivation would look like. While my Initial Stance on Quality Teaching focused on what individual teachers do, in the letter I outline policies that I think will lead to a high quality school, focusing on teacher development and the teacher-dean relationship.

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