Understanding Probability Through Mancala Game


Make Mathematics relevant and meaningful for all students, it is important that we embrace a wide variety of real-world applications. This fun Probability game provides rich and interesting contexts in which students can experience and explore maths. First, students learn about the game, including the history and background, as well as instructions for playing. Second, the teacher demonstrated the game to the class.

Rules to Follow

Then students will be placed in small groups of two to four, given appropriate game materials, and instructed to play. They are then introduced to a Probability concept related to the game, either as an integral part of the strategy or as an experiment where data is collected as the game is played. Students collect and analyze the data, and report their results on the group worksheets as both short answers and longer explanations.

How to Play Mancala?

Mancala (also called war) is a common game played throughout Africa and the Caribbean. There are many variations and names for this game, including ayo in Nigeria, omweso in Uganda, and kalaha in Egypt. Mancala was played before 1400 BC in ancient Egypt, and many historians believe that it is the oldest game in the world.

• At the beginning, each pit contains four beans, which represent seeds. Players alternate turns. The first player chooses one pit from which to “sow” the “seeds.”

• Each bean in the pit is then placed, one at a time, into successive pits, moving counterclockwise around the board. Beans placed in the kalaha, the “pit” at the end of the board to the player’s right, are counted as points for that player. Beans are not sown in the opponent’s kalaha.

• If the last bean in a play is placed in the player’s own kalaha, he or she gets another turn.

• If the last bean is placed in an empty pit on the player’s side of the board, then he or she captures the beans in the opponent’s pit that is opposite the ending pit. All captured beans, as well as the capturing piece, are placed in the player’s kalaha.

• The game ends when all the pits on one side of the board are empty.

• The winner is the player with the most beans in the kalaha.

This mancala activity explores basic experimental probability. Further explorations could require students to develop strategies and planning about distributing beans and choosing the starting pit. Mancala has been compared with the game of chess because of its extensive and intricate strategy possibilities.

Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.