Worldwide pastimes: meet a scientist who studies board games to find out more about human cultures.As a girl shakes a pair of dice in her hand, her opponents can hardly watch. Who will win the game?
Scenes like this one have been playing out since at least 3,000 B.C., when people first began playing board games, according to Alex de Voogt. De Voogt is an anthropologist--a scientist who studies human cultures--at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He manages the museum's collection of African artifacts. His favorite objects of study are board games.
Years ago, de Voogt traveled to Zanzibar, a group of islands off the western coast of Africa, where people taught him to play a version of mancala. In this game, which is played all over the world, opponents move counters, such as pebbles, through a series of cup-shaped holes on a board. De Voogt has been hooked on games ever since.
THE SCIENCE OF GAMES
Anthropologists like de Voogt study games to learn more about various cultures and how people have migrated from one location to another over time. Throughout history, people have brought their games with them when they've moved to new regions. Scientists have found that as games have passed from person to person and from culture to culture, they haven't changed very much.
Mancala traveled from West Africa to the Caribbean hundreds of years ago. The game's rules in both locations are nearly identical. Even if they don't speak the same language, these people could still play mancala together, says de Voogt.
WHY WE LOVE PLAYING
People throughout the ages have enjoyed board games for many reasons. They've used games to gamble, in ceremonies, or just to pass the time.
Many of the games popular enough to survive for a long time are those that involve chance, such as dice games like backgammon. Because of the element of chance, says de Voogt, "in some cultures, these board games were used for telling the future." Plus, they're exciting to watch--you never know who will win.
Despite all that scientists have learned about games, many things remain unknown. For instance, "we still do not know the recipe for making a wonderful game," says de Voogt. Many people invent new games, but it's surprisingly tough to create one that's a hit. The most popular games today, like Scrabble and checkers, have been around for decades or even centuries. "Once a game becomes popular, it can stay that way for many generations," says de Voogt.
Although the rules of games are passed on from generation to generation, the materials used to play them are continually changing. Traditionally, mancala games have been played in the sand or on wooden boards with objects like seeds, shells, or stones as pieces. But today, mancala can be played on your computer or cell phone.
No matter how we play games, we're still just as fascinated by them as people were thousands of years ago. "Board games have not stopped being interesting," says de Voogt.
Mancala games are played all over Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. You can find examples of them in the Hall of African Peoples at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mancala doesn't always require a physical board. Museum visitors can see a version of the game that uses small holes dug in the ground. To learn more, visit www.amnh.org.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Why do some games remain popular through the years?
An early version traveled from West Africa to the Caribbean during the slave trade, perhaps as early as the 17th century.
This game, played with tiles, was developed in China in the 1840s. It spread to the U.S. In the 1910s.
After it was developed in India, Parcheesi arrived in England and the U.S. in the 1860s.
After originating in the Middle East, chess traveled to Spain in the 7th century. In the 1400s, Europeans crafted the game into what is played today.
NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS: Grades 5-8: Science as a human endeavor Grades 9-12: Historical perspectives
COMMON CORE STATE STANDARD: READING INFORMATIONAL TEXT: 3. Determine central ideas and summarize key supporting details.
Students will understand how scientists are studying the history of board games to learn about cultures and the migration of people around the world.
* What is your favorite board game? Why?
* What are some games that are played all over the world? (chess, checkers, solitaire, mahjong, etc.)
* How do you think games vary from country to country? (Materials such as the board may be different in different countries; the rules might be slightly different; the game might have a diffirent name; etc.)
1. Ask the before-reading questions. Go to www.scholastic.com/scienceworld. Open the digital edition to page 20, and have students do the same in their magazines.
2. Have a volunteer read the headline and the text directly below it. Ask students what they think scientists can learn from studying board games. Then have students read the article silently.
3. Break students into groups of 3 or 4. Pass out tile "Review an Article" reproducible from the database under the orange "Skills Sheets" button at www.scholastic.com/scienceworld. Have each group review the article and fill out the graphic organizer that challenges students to identify the different parts of the article.
4. Go over the answers to the work sheet. Engage students in a discussion about what board games teach scientists about cultures and migration. What other types of activities or items might people bring with them as they migrate around the world? Write their answers on a digital sticky note.
Read the text ill the box labeled "What Do You Think?" on page 21. "Wily do some games remain popular through the years?" Do students think that board games will continue to be popular in the future? Do they think that, technology is changing how we play games? Why or why not?
Go over the responses to tile "Review an Article" work sheet. Did students grasp the main idea and highlight the important facts in the article?
WANT MORE SKILLS SHEETS?
Go to www.scholastic.com/scienceworld and click on the orange Skills Sheets button to download these assessments:
BIOLOGY: GAME CHANGER?
Scientists have found that board games don't change much as they travel from person to person and culture to culture. Find out if gaines "migrate" better than stories with this fun version of the telephone game.
COMMON CORE: PLAY TIME!
Test students' timeline-reading skills with this work sheet that highlights some important dates in the evolution of several popular games.
* Have students make their own mancala board out of a recycled egg carton: http://crafts.kaboose.com/mancala-game.html.
* Watch this CBS segment about the evolution of board games: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-812rZ_JBzlI&feature=related.
* Learn why scientists think the popularity of board games started with privileged members of society and see photos of early game pieces: http://news.discovery.com/history/board-games-history-romans-egypt- 111206.html
* Where did Words With Friends get its start? Find out more about the history of Scrabble with this Time magazine article: www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1867007,00.html.