“Well, this class makes me think”

Students using International Maritime Signal Flags

On the third week of class this semester, I walked in to hear my students talking about a class that one of them slept through. Of course, I inquired: “Which class are you sleeping through this term?”

The answer: chemistry.

I responded: “I haven’t seen you sleep through any of my classes. Should I be offended?”

The student replied, “Well, this class makes me think.”

Welcome to college.

For the second semester at  Queens University of Charlotte, I have the pleasure of facilitating an “exploration seminar” in the art of puzzling. The “Puzzled” course gives students the opportunity to learn and think about a variety of problem solving strategies, cryptography, and codebreaking.

Students in the course range from freshmen to seniors, but all participants are already challenging their assumptions about how classes operate. In the first two sessions, students worked together to solve group puzzles which tested their problem solving strategies. The first required them to define the rules of the puzzle, and the second used their assumptions about the rules to challenge their decision making processes.

Later puzzles challenge participants to attempt problems using algorithmic, heuristic, trial-and-error, and brute force strategies, to name a few.

The high-soaring results of a newspaper construction problem

And students in the course are already immersed in the history and origins of modern cryptography.

Cryptography (the study of “secret writing”) might be a topic you’d hear about in the halls of MIT, the Naval Academy, or training sites at Langley. But here in Charlotte, students will be getting a taste of the basics of secret writing, codes, and ciphers using Simon Singh’s popular The Code Book as a guide. Over the course of the semester, students study, decipher, and encipher messages of their own, and connect their learning to current digital encryption strategies. More on that coming soon.

Puzzled is a one-credit-hour exploration seminar in puzzling and codebreaking at Queens University of Charlotte.

Exploration seminars at Queens are intended to contribute to faculty-student interaction within the university by providing opportunities for faculty-student teams to investigate topics of mutual interest. These topics are typically interdisciplinary (or non-disciplinary) in nature. Other past examples at Queens have included seminars in topics like digital literacy, philosophy of the body, the “ordinary heroes” project, latino tastes, and random acts of kindness. 

To learn more about the Puzzled course, view the syllabus here.

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