This week there was a Twitter chat in which people said they enjoyed using a game I recognised as a version of an activity originally called Caribbean Fisherman. These were secondary maths teachers but actually the game was devised for use in geography classes. The inventor was Rex Walford, and for more than five years now I’ve had a piece about Rex I’ve never yet been able to bring myself to publish.
Even though it was a game for secondary geography students, I did, a quarter of a century ago, manage to convince my team of its potential in primary maths classrooms. In fact we devised a version called Fruit Picking and used it with five yearolds. I enjoyed the Fruit Picking version well enough, but for me the parent version of Caribbean Fisherman was always my favourite. A single 1-6 die was the only equipment needed to work with any group, be it a class of thirty pupils or 150 teachers at a conference.
Each player acts as a fisherman living on a Caribbean island. Every day you go out in your boat to position your lobster pot so you can sell your catch to the tourist hotels. Each day you’ve a decision to make. Place the pot in the waters close to the shore and you get a catch that’ll be worth 2 dollars. And your catch is pretty well guaranteed, because there are plenty of fish and whatever the weather, it’s always safe to fish so close to the shore.
But with a bit more effort you can put the pot in waters further out where the fish are better and your catch will be worth 6 dollars. However, there’s a snag. Sometimes the wind blows hard, and these offshore pots get lost – and so you make no money at all.
So there’s a table like this:
|Good day||Bad day|
One of the great things about even a simple simulation like this is that you can add in more and more as the game goes on. Not only does this add to the fun, it gives the chance to make some realistic points.
So if there’s no offshore catch on a bad-weather day, then the only successful pots are the inshore pots, so their catch has an extra scarcity value. Shouldn’t this make the inshore catch worth more? So the table now looks like this:
|Good day||Bad day|
So for each day every fisherman has to make their choice. Does s/he go inshore or offshore? Each day the pots are placed and then I find out what’s happening with the weather. I roll the die and the resulting weather applies to everyone: 1 to 5 means the weather is fine; but a 6 means the weather is bad.
As soon as everyone knows how to play we can move on a bit. Of course, in practice no fisherman has just a single pot; it’s more sensible for everyone to have six pots, so the figures get a bit more complicated.
I said you can add in more and more features and hence more realism. Your weekly target income might be 80 dollars. Once you’ve done that, what decisions do you make? Do you take the rest of the week off? Or do you keep fishing to build up a cash reserve? And if you don’t make your 80 dollars then how do you pay the bills?
Perhaps you should you split your pots and put some inshore and some further out.
When bad weather means you lose a pot, shouldn’t you need to replace it (at a cost of 5 dollars)?
Bad weather tends to come in spells, so when there’s a bad day, there’s a greater chance it will be bad again the next. So after a bad day, a roll of either 5 or 6 on the die means bad weather the following day.
Depending on how the game goes, you can pile on more and more. Sometimes pupils suggest forming co-operatives or perhaps friendly societies which can offer help to someone who finds themselves in difficulties. On the other hand, if you build up lots of cash, then what do you do with it? Or perhaps there are so many people fishing that the market becomes over-supplied, prices drop, and people look for alternatives – pot-making, money-lending, working in the tourist industry, ….
The beauty of Caribbean Fisherman is that such a simple idea can introduce so much, not just in mathematics and Geography, and in social issues as well. Rex Walford was my friend and pretty well close to my idol; in a few days from now it will be the seventh anniversary of his death in a tragic accident. This time, at last, I really do hope to force myself to say more about him.