Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Chaos Game: 3rd Grade vs. University Faculty


I just finished two separate presentations of the Chaos Game exercise that I typically use to start the Honors class to students at Arcdia University. Most of the students were education majors - and most of them were elementary ed majors. I am always pleased at the reactions to the game - especially from students who believe, or claim to believe, that they are not good at mathematics. The Chaos Game is such a rich exercise, especially given the approach of Understanding vs. Prediction, that most get caught up in the inadequacies of prediction, and the frustration of not being able to get a real comprehension of how the patterns (and colors) arise.

But the best part of the exercise, for me, is the ability to run it in almost any setting - from a 3rd grade classroom to a university mathematics department. Each group will get something different from the exercise. Personally, I prefer the response of the 3rd-graders, who , unlike mathematics faculty, don’t try to understand what is happening at a deep mathematical level. Instead, they react purely to the shapes and colors, and their inquisitiveness makes for a wonderful teaching moment.

Education majors, and especially elementary education majors, are also a terrific audience for the Game as we play it. I believe that most of them could see how the exercise, or something similar, can be transported to their own future classrooms!