Activity ideas - the mathematics of games

The theme for this newsletter's activity idea is the mathematics of games including favourites based on existing Primary and Secondary Masterclasses.

  • Maths students around a table
    Credit: Royal Institution

This term, we have chosen the theme of ‘games' for our featured masterclass activity ideas.

Masterclasses offer ideal opportunities for students to play games which demonstrate real-world mathematical concepts, strategic thinking and logic.  Students of all ages can approach games from a variety of levels; calculating fairness, developing strategies, and looking at the deeper mathematics of the game in terms of probability and game theory, among others.  Games can even be used to demonstrate concepts such as mathematical modelling, as in Conway's Game of Life.

We would like to highlight a few of our favourite activities which allow students to explore these concepts in more depth.  Working with primary students, John Dore uses a wide range of strategy board games.  His games require skill and experience to play well but only take a short time to learn, thus allowing the students to develop their strategic thinking skills and explore the mathematics behind the games.  You can download his instructions to ‘Domineering’.

For secondary students, Martin Bamber and Sue Harkness have developed ‘The World of Investment' - a trading game for groups of masterclass students.  Typically included in a masterclass on game theory and probability, this activity allows the students to develop their own strategies for investing a sum of money.  On the surface, the students can just pick the apparent best investments, but going deeper with the theory allows them to develop winning strategies, as well as looking at the real-world implications of the investment market.  You can download their full instructions for teachers and student worksheets.

There are some lovely activities on the internet which allow young people to explore the mathematics of games and strategy, especially on the Nrich website:

We also found lots of game activities on the Glasgow Science Centre’s maths and technology page.

We hope you enjoy the activities.  Do let us know if you have any of your own favourites - you can email maths@ri.ac.uk.