Math + Multiculturalism:
Native American Stick
Today's Snack: Although you wouldn't use the sticks in today's
game, enjoy a low-calorie fudgsicle or popsicle from the freezer today. Soak
the sticks in water with a few drops of bleach and dish soap, let dry, and
maybe you can use them the next time you play this game!
Per pair of students:
6 wooden craft sticks and 12 toothpicks
People the world over have
enjoyed playing counting games with small objects that can symbolize different
We are familiar in our
culture with "dice," those six-sided cubes with dots that signify the numbers
from 1 to 6.
Many native cultures played
the same basic game in which they decorated sticks to help them keep count in a
simple game of chance. They called it "stick dice."
First, let's divide into
two's. Each pair will get 6 craft sticks and 12 toothpicks.
Let's choose one of these
Native American graphic patterns and decorate your six craft sticks with colored
markers so that they look identical. You can make squiggles, circles,
triangles, or lines in whatever colors you like. Just be sure to make all six
sticks look pretty much the same. Be
sure to decorate one side ONLY. Be sure to leave one side blank. That
will be important when you play this game.
Don't do anything with the
toothpicks. They're just to help you count.
Spot a beautiful Native
American pattern, and decorate your six sticks:
Now that they are
decorated, let's call them your "stick dice."
To play the game, make two
piles on the floor - your six stick dice, and your 12 toothpicks, which we will
call "counting sticks." Decide who goes first - perhaps the person with the
birthday that is closest to today?
The person who goes first
should pick up the six stick dice, shake them in your hands a little bit so
that they get mixed up, and then drop them on the floor.
Count the number of stick
dice that landed with the pattern side up. Count the number that landed with
the blank side up. Here's how you score points:
6 pattern side up
+ 0 blank side up 3
6 blank side up
+ 0 pattern side up 3
3 pattern side up
+ 0 blank side up 2 points
Any other combination 1 point
Let's say the person who
went first threw the stick dice, and gets 2 with the pattern side up, and 4 with
the blank side up. Look at the chart: that's "any other combination," and it scores
one point. That person should pick up one toothpick from the "counting stick"
pile and keep it.
Now the next person picks
up the stick dice and drops them. Let's say that person has 3 with the pattern
side up, and 3 with the blank side up. That person gets to pick up 2 "counting
sticks" (toothpicks) and keep them.
Keep taking turns until all
12 toothpicks are gone. At that point, when it's your turn, you can take
toothpicks from your opponent's collection, and vice versa.
The game is over when one
of you has all 12 toothpicks!
Native people may not have
had computers or calculators, but they still really knew their math, and it's
because they played fun games like this. Besides helping you with your basic
subtraction skills, this game is actually exposing you to higher-level math
concepts such as patterns and probability. So you're getting smart while you're
having fun! And that's great in any culture!