Sunday, August 12, 2012

What We Can Learn from Racko

Every March at the Learning Lab, we host The Great Racko Tournament. It is an event happily anticipated by all students who meet the requirements for participation (that being--3rd grade and up). I teach each of my students to play Racko and encourage other tutors to do the same. Racko is a game of logic and strategy that is simple to learn. To win, put your cards in order from lowest to highest. The deck is made up of cards numbered from 1-60.  Ten cards are dealt and placed in the card rack in random order (you can't look!). Then each player takes a turn to draw a card that he/she can use replace the cards already in his rack.

It's excellent to watch children learn this game. The first few times they play, they don't understand it exactly. They try to replace more than one card at a time or they randomly pull out a card to replace, before they've even chosen a new card from the deck. I offer advice--"are you sure you want to do that?" And I hold them to the rules-"you can't do that." But eventually, they get it. I love to watch a student choose a card, then spend several minutes deciding: Do I want this card? Can I use it? Should I put it in this spot? Or that one? If I discard this, will my opponent use it? It's an excellent way to teach that kind of thought process.

I call Racko a "math" came since it involves ordering. But it's much more than that. For one thing, it makes our students excited to come to tutoring sessions. Moreover, it gives kids something to think about. Something to strategize about. It teaches good sportsmanship (I never throw games--I'm just as competitive as the kids are!). You can't always win. It teaches patience. It teaches turn-taking skills.

Sometimes, mistakes are made. You choose a card, replace a card and then...uh oh, you realize it wasn't a good plan. I make an effort to talk through my mistakes for the benefit of my students (Oh...I guess I should have thought about that move a little bit more). It makes me happy to see my students do the same thing. Part of the learning process is figuring out how to compensate for or rethink mistakes we make. In a game setting, it takes the edge off.  Sometimes I even lose at Racko! That's okay; I try to lose gracefully and expect the same of my opponents when they lose.

I've never had a student who didn't enjoy Racko once I taught them to play. That's where the Great Racko Tournament came from. This is a lesson in patience, sportsmanship, graphing, planning and happy anticipation. Each student plays 2 round of the game with me at each session. This keeps the playing field even. My wins don't count, but for each win a student has, he/she gets to color a square on the Racko graph. At the end of the month, the player with the most wins is the Champ! (Actually, we award first, second and third places--with medals, of course).

Students watch the graph all month, planning, anticipating, predicting what will happen. They try to develop new strategies and psych themselves up. Standing around the graph, students ask each other questions, congratulate one another, or comment on the standings in constructive ways. They learn about each other through this event.  Some of my students have even bought the game Racko (it's not easy to find) to teach their families and to play at home. That's good. Board games and card games are excellent ways to spend some free time.

Only one student can be the Racko Champ, but there are no sore losers. Everyone can win when it comes to learning new skills. And, win or lose, everyone has a good time.