John Conway’s Game of Life with kids

Yesterday my younger son asked if we could do a project about John Conway’s game of life. Seemed like kind of a fun challenge, so we played around a little with the game using snap cubes today. This was a really fun project.


It is actually our 3rd project inspired by Conway’s work. Just last week we did a two-day project on the Surreal numbers:

Walking down the path to the surreal numbers – part 1

Walking down the path to the surreal numbers – part 2

Prior to those projects we’d explored the Collatz conjecture and Conway’s “amusical” variation:

The Collatz conjecture and John Conway’s “amusical” variation

Today we started in on the game of life project by taking a look at the rules and studying how a fairly simple shape would be have under those rules. The simple description of the rules we used was from the Game of Life page on Wikipedia:

Conway’s Game of Life on Wikipedia

Next we moved on to a more complicated shape – a “glider”

Following that exercise, we looked at the next iteration of a glider:

Finally, we looked at the Gosper glider gun using the GIF that is part of the Wikipedia page. I hadn’t made the connection between this shape in the game of life and the Gosper curve that we’d studied before, but the two shapes are indeed named after the same person. Here’s our old Gosper curve project:

Exploring the Gosper curve

Anyway, here are some thoughts from the kids on the Gosper glider gun, and I was happy to hear that they wanted to play around with the game of life a little more at the end of this project. They are still playing with it as I finish writing up this project 🙂

So, another super fun project inspired by some of John Conway’s work. Definitely a fun morning with the boys!


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