The potential of recreational mathematics to support the development of mathematical learning
The 12th Southern Hemisphere Delta Conference on the teaching and learning of undergraduate mathematics and statistics, Fremantle, Australia (24/11/2019). With Edward Smith, Alexander S. Corner, David O'Sullivan and Jeff Waldock (speaker).
A literature review establishes a working definition of recreational mathematics: a type of play which is enjoyable and requires mathematical thinking or skills to engage with. Typically, it is accessible to a wide range of people and can be effectively used to motivate engagement with and develop understanding of mathematical ideas or concepts. Recreational mathematics can be used in education for engagement and to develop mathematical skills, to maintain interest during procedural practice and to challenge and stretch students. It can also make cross-curricular links, including to history of mathematics. In undergraduate study, it can be used for engagement within standard curricula and for extra-curricular interest. Beyond this, there are opportunities to develop important graduate-level skills in problem-solving and communication. The development of a module 'Game Theory and Recreational Mathematics' is discussed. This provides an opportunity for fun and play, while developing graduate skills. It teaches some combinatorics, graph theory, game theory and algorithms/complexity, as well as scaffolding a Polya-style problem-solving process. Assessment of problem-solving as a process via examination is outlined. Student feedback gives some indication that students appreciate the aims of the module, benefit from the explicit focus on problem-solving and understand the active nature of the learning.