Learning through… Canasta?

The game of Canasta itself is a variation of Rummy. Canasta, meaning ‘basket’ in Spanish, was devised in Uruguay in the late 1930s and boomed in the 1950s throughout South America. It requires a plethora of skills – counting, decision-making, risk-taking, communication.

For the past ten years I have developed a passion for card games. Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud… I would even sit with friends of mine and create card games to pass time!

At the beginning of the year, we, the teachers, were asked to give up one lunch-time per week to run a co-curricular activity for students. The other option was to take on an extra yard-duty. My first thoughts were, wow, an extra 30-40 minutes of cards per week, winner! The next thought was, how can I make this purposeful, engaging and collaborative for my students?

Through the first five or six weeks of this weekly catch-up with my regular attendees at what has been dubbed ‘Kuran’s Casino’, we have created a card game, constructed card towers, debated how cards can enhance our learning in maths, and how we need to think critically and take risks in some variations of those games.

Today, one of the boys brought a packet of Canasta cards to school and asked if he could teach me how to play. This same student had already taught me the basic strategy for Gin Rummy, and we have had countless conversations about the sheer beauty of that particular game. As he carefully shuffled the cards and explained the rules to both myself and another student, my mind was buzzing with the authentic teaching and learning that was happening at that very moment:

Here was an eight-year old boy, quiet by nature, feeding on the curiosity of his teacher. He would articulate, model and question before me to ensure that I was up to speed with the game. When the other student would ask a question, he listened, and responded in a way that she could understand. Right before my eyes, the teaching and learning process was taking place.

As our PYP coordinator walked past, I exclaimed, “Look, I’m learning!” And I was.

My mind turned to the PYP Learner Profile Attributes and Attitudes that were on display at that moment not only within our triad, but around the space at that moment with up to five groups of students all spread out, lounging, sitting, sprawling. I could hear the different strategies in their voices; the justification for a particular move; the ordinal counting; the adding and subtracting; the genuine excitement and joy.

I thought about the respect they were showing one another, as beginners and experienced game-players shared in the experience.

I thought about the collaboration as pairs of students battled in a game of ‘Bottoms’, which we had created together.

I thought about the appreciation that we had for the genuine art (or science) of those card games.

I thought of us as inquirers, as open-minded and risk-takers, taking on new challenges and trying new ideas.

I thought of us as thinkers, showing enthusiasm for learning.


And then he won.



About Dean Kuran

I'm a primary school teacher at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I believe in establishing positive environments in which students can develop confidence and curiosity, while nurturing the skills that will benefit them outside of the learning space.
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