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All About Mancala Club

Updated: Oct 8

Mancala Clubs are out of school time activity clubs for elementary (K-5) students where they get to learn and experiment with different Mancala games from all over the world, solve interesting challenges and design their own Mancala games. Each day of the club features an arrival meeting where we learn about students experiences playing Mancala at home, we introduce a new challenge and describe the activity choices that day. Students get to choose from a range of challenges or simply to just play for fun. At the end of they day, we clean up and share discoveries.


The History of Mancala Club:

We are learning scientists and educators exploring what children and families can learn through playing Mancala, the world's oldest board game. Mancala Club started as an emergent curriculum project in John's after school program Kids Co. at South Shore 15 years ago. John was leading his after school program in a unit on strategic games and brought in some Mancala boards he bought at Goodwill. John had been playing Mancala for about 10 years and thought he was kind of an expert on it UNTIL a 3rd grader challenged him and beat him quite handily on his first turn before John even made a move! (see the first turn challenge) They figured out a way to write down his moves and after he swore John to secrecy, he shared his opening move. Sadly when the program had to move buildings, the notebook was lost. John and his students continued to play mancala over the years, experimenting with new rule sets and making up some of their own.


The memories of this fun learning journey stuck with John and when he went back to school at the University of Washington, he and two colleagues Gabriel de Los Angeles and David Phelps took a design based research class and decided to see what more they could learn by creating an after school club at a local elementary school. This was our first Mancala Club and we ran it in 2015. Since then, John and David have run Mancala Clubs both as research sites and just for fun in elementary schools and at the UW Robinson Center for Young Scholar's Saturday Enrichment Classes. David turned this work into his dissertation where he demonstrated that our students created 18 inquiry practices on the path to Mancala mastery. We look forward to publishing our work and sharing it in more accessible ways such as this one.


This website and these videos come out of what we've learned with children and families about Mancala and learning itself. With Covid, we had to stop running our Saturday Mancala Clubs at the UW Robinson Center for Young Scholars, but we don't want to stop learning and playing. We hope it will be a resource to families who are looking for fun ways to learn together and to discover learning hiding in fun. We also hope it can be a resource for teachers looking to try more expansive STEM learning in their classrooms and folks who want to start their own Mancala Clubs when it is safe to do so.


We hope you find the videos and activities here as exciting as our students did and hope you will share discoveries with us.


Happy playing!

John Benner

David Phelps

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