This post was contributed by Bethany of MathGeekMama.com.
Make a Cool Math Game that’s Multicultural, too!
With four kids, it seems like every time we eat out at a restaurant, one of them inevitably decides to draw a Tic-Tac-Toe board to challenge their dad or I. And while most children in the United States are familiar with this classic three-in-a-row game, what they may not know is that variations of the “three-in-a-row” concept are played all over the world! I recently learned several from the book, Math Games and Activities From Around the World by Claudia Zaslavsky. I highly recommend this book, as kids learn not only all different types of math games and puzzles, but a great deal about other countries and cultures, too!
Shisima – A Cool Math Game from Kenya
The game I am sharing today comes from Kenya, a country in East Africa. It is called Shisima (which means “body of water,”) because the center of the game board is the “water” and they call the game pieces impalavali (which means “water bugs”). The reason for this is that water bugs move very quickly, and it’s hard to keep track of where they are. Likewise, Shisima players move their pieces so quickly, it’s hard to keep up! Once you learn the rules and practice, maybe you will be able to move your impalavali as fast as the kids in Kenya!
Often kids in Kenya will simply draw a game board (which is in the shape of an octagon) in the dirt to play (much like we draw Tic-Tac-Toe boards anywhere), and use rocks or bottle caps as game pieces.
I decided to make a Shisima board for my kids that would be a little more durable, however, and you can too! All you need is a printer, some crayons or markers, a piece of cardboard and some glue!
To Make the Game:
Print the game board of your choice (one is blank, in case your kids want to practice using a ruler to draw the lines themselves, and one is ready to use).
Let your kids color the shisima blue like water, then cut out the pieces and glue the shisima to the center of the board.
Then simply glue the board to a piece of cardboard for added durability, and you’ve got a cool math game for the kids!
To Set Up the Game:
Each player has three game pieces. I used unifix cubes in 2 different colors, but you could use counters, coins, LEGOs, or anything you like, as long as you can tell the difference between the two players!
The game pieces are then set on three consecutive points of the octagon, across from each other, as seen in the picture below.
To Play Shisima:
Players take turns moving their game pieces one space. A move must be to an adjacent corner, or to the center (shisima). Jumping pieces is not allowed, and there cannot be two pieces on the same space.
To win the game, a player must get three of their pieces in a row, including one piece on the shisima. (Therefore, there are four possible ways to win the game).
My kids enjoyed playing this game, especially my oldest (six years old). But older kids might enjoy thinking through strategy, such as whether or not it’s a good idea to move to the shisima on the first move, or how one might trap the other player so that it’s impossible for them to block a win. You could also use the game board to discuss an octagon and its properties (number of edges and points), or other places we see the octagonal shape used in real life (For another fun shape game, try this shape scavenger hunt!).
Most importantly, however, is that you have fun!
More Cool Math Game Ideas from Math Geek Mama:
Bethany is the mom behind the blog, MathGeekMama.com, a website dedicated to helping parents and educators teach math in a way that is fun and engaging, while building a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics. When she’s not playing with numbers, she’s exploring with her four little ones, drinking way too much coffee, or soaking up the chaos of everyday life.