Friday, July 29, 2016

Playing chess makes you good at... chess

Back in 2013 I blogged about a study being run by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF - prop. S. Tall).

Conducted on an impressive scale - involving 4009 pupils from 100 schools across 11 English local education authorities - it set out to test the notion that teaching children chess improves their performance at school.

The results are now in. 

While a number of earlier studies carried out in other European countries have supported the idea that chess has wider educational benefits, but the EEF study failed to find any.

I have written too many press releases about scientific papers in my day job to expect any study conclusive, but I have to say I find this one impressive.

Had it found wider benefits, no doubt chess enthusiasts like me would have seized on them. But what the EEF still did find was pleasing:
Pupils, headteachers and class teachers were generally very positive about the intervention. In particular, pupils liked playing games of chess with their friends, and class teachers welcomed the enthusiasm of the tutors for sharing their expertise.
So children like playing chess and it is good to bring adults from the outside world into the classroom. I'll settle for that.

What chess did for me as a teenager - though, looking back, I did not become a player until my twenties when I was playing in strong leagues two evenings a week while living in Birmingham and London - was give me confidence.

In fact, when I found I could beat those of my teachers who came along to the local chess club, it probably gave me too much confidence.

Besides, I wonder whether the idea that being good at chess automatically makes you good at mathematics is not a misunderstanding.

If I look at my games from the days when I was good, I do not understand them. But then I did not always understand them then.

In my case at least, being good at chess involved intuition and instinct as well as calculation. Sometimes I would sense the right move at once and then spend my thinking time trying to work out why it was the best move or plucking up the courage to play it.

But maybe maths is like that too when you get good at it.

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