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Edit: I am reposting this question fom math.stackexchange.com; there may be some professors here who have more experience teaching topology.

This is a math education question that I've been thinking of when taking and teaching topology.

For a few years now I've had an idea for a board game that could help teach students topology. However, I've had trouble working out the specifics, and wondered if the community would be able to help. Of course, this may be closed for being off topic, but if so, I'll post a link where we could continue the conversation elsewhere for those interested.

Setup: Basically like battleship. The playing board would be squares of transparent paper (or chessboards, go boards, etc.).

  1. Players secretly place markers (which are circles) indicating where gardens are (or mines, etc.) on their paper, hidden from the other player.
  2. A card is then flipped over selecting a topology.
  3. Players then send five agents to the other player's board; the agents are points. If the points are placed directly in the garden, the player gets his opponents garden. If not, each agent has the option of moving (in a topological path) or of setting off a bomb. Bombs explode to form an open set; any agents or gardens caught in the bomb perish (so you may have to sacrifice your agents). Players describe the shape of the bomb, and their opponent tells them if they've hit the hidden gardens.
  4. At the end of the round, players gain one point for each garden they possess and lose two points for each agent lost.

Possible topologies include:

-Discrete topology: Bombs can take any shape, but agents cannot move.

-Indiscrete topology: Agents can move anywhere, but the only possible bomb is a total nuke.

-Finite complement topology: Agents can still move anywhere, but bombs can miss the agents.

-Dictionary order: Most interesting if agents aren't allowed to move through each other.

-Product topology: Each direction is one of discrete/indiscrete/finite complement/standard

-Metric topology: In metric topology, we require bombs to be formed of metric balls. Then we have the standard metric, the square metric, etc.

-Torus topology: Identify opposing edges (could do other surfaces, use orientation perhaps)

-Subspace topology: Players place an overlay on their boards marking out a subset (like topologist's sine curve, etc.) and then flip over another topology to combine with the overlay.

Now, I think this could be made more interesting. Possible variants could include that agents don't find gardens when placed in them until they do a "search" which means they can detect gardens in a compact connected set containing them (but the test only detects if there is at least one garden, so if the only compact set in the whole space is the space itself, the test is always positive).

I'm sure you all could think of many improvements and better rules. I think this could really help people learning topology for the first time. I would have loved to had it for my students this last semester. What ideas do you have to incorporate other parts of topology (like connectedness or algebraic topology) and how could scoring and set up be improved? In other words, how could this be made playable with real strategies? I don't want this to end up like Quidditch. Thanks, and happy Boxing Day!

Edit: I forgot to mention, I don't know whether it would be better to do analog (paper and pen) or discrete (pegs on a go board).

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This seems to be less about math and more about creative uses in boardgames, which is why I vote to close. –  Chris Gerig Mar 13 '13 at 1:09
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Whatever happened to students learning topology by opening a book and reading it? –  Joseph Van Name Mar 13 '13 at 1:27
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I think this question is borderline for MO, but to reply to Joseph I'd like to point out some of the advantages of having game/puzzle introductions to broad chunks of math: they can be introduced to much younger students (and what small child doesn't want to learn about topology after reading Flatland?); they encourage the student to try varying the rules and seeing what changes; and I think the reflex they teach - of trying to understand a piece of mathematics as dynamic, rather than static - is a very useful one. Obviously this won't be true of all students, and I certainly (cont'd) –  Noah S Mar 13 '13 at 1:46
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I certainly see no harm in trying to find other methods of presenting an idea, especially when no claim is made that the method in question ought to replace books. Heck, I don't even see the harm when the attempt is probably futile. (Full disclosure: when I was first learning priority arguments, I came up with a solitaire-like card game to simulate finite injury, which I then tried to teach my 7-year-old sister, so I'm provably crazy when it comes to such things. :)) Again, I don't think this question is MO-appropriate; I just wanted to defend the general project of making explicative games. –  Noah S Mar 13 '13 at 5:34
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Perhaps such a game isn't so much about teaching students topology, as it is about getting them motivated to learn topology (perhaps in a conventional way). –  Greg Martin Mar 13 '13 at 7:22
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1 Answer 1

This isn't quite topology, but Mike Shulman and John Baez have some interesting things to say about "gamification".

http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/category/2012/06/the_gamification_of_higher_cat.html

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About a year ago, Terrence Tao posted some thoughts about "gamifying" high school algebra on his blog. See terrytao.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/gamifying-algebra and terrytao.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/new-version-of-algebra-game –  Barry Cipra Mar 13 '13 at 18:33
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