Puzzle-based learning of mathematics in engineering

Thomas, Colin and Badger, Matthew and Ventura-Medina, Esther and Sangwin, Chris (2013) Puzzle-based learning of mathematics in engineering. Engineering Education, 8 (1). pp. 122-134. ISSN 1750-0052

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Abstract

Puzzle-based Learning is under-used in the teaching of mathematics to engineers. It is argued here that embedding puzzles in the teaching of other subjects enhances students’ learning by developing their problem-solving and independent-learning skills, whilst increasing their motivation to learn mathematics. The authors have defined a puzzle to be a problem that is perplexing and either has a solution requiring considerable ingenuity – perhaps a lateral thinking solution – or possibly results in an unexpected, even a counter-intuitive or apparently paradoxical solution. Engineering specific puzzle variants may help student learning, but specificity can also conflict with desirable simplicity, undermining the pedagogic value of a puzzle. It is not easy to categorize puzzles by level of difficulty, whether of the puzzle as a whole or the underlying mathematics, because this depends on the background and experience of the student. Classroom experiences of using puzzles in engineering teaching are described here, with some puzzles that illuminate these issues.