American Go E-Journal

Seminar on Strategy Games at Cambridge Not Child’s Play

Wednesday October 19, 2016


IMG_20161002_113336An international seminar on strategy games was held at Cambridge University, England, on October 1st and 2nd. Organized by ChessPlus, and co-sponsored by Google’s Deepmind, the event drew about 40 teachers from 15 countries, who shared their expertise on teaching go, chess and other games in schools. The first day began with a compelling presentation from Dr. Barry Hymer, Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Cumbria, in Lancaster. Hymer provided a brief introduction to mindset theory, and what it does and doesn’t say about achievement as it relates to strategy games. He contrasted two different mindsets: fixed vs. growth. Those with the former believe intelligence is a fixed trait that can’t be changed, while those with the latter believe intelligence is cultivated through learning. Dr. Hymer’s chart (below, at right) shows how these mindsets play out. All of us exhibit some of both types of mindsets at times, and in different areas.

Hymer also expounded on some mindset myths, which included the belief that natural ability and talent don’t exist, or that they don’t matter, and that hard work guarantees ultimate success. Instead, multiple factors come into play to create success, including what Hymer calls metacognitive strategies (how we think about thinking). Hymer noted Gary Kasparov, from the chess world, felt the same way: “It’s not enough to work hard and study late into the night. You must also become intimately aware of the methods you use to reach your decisions.” In a later presentation, Hymer discussed some educational studies with a few surprising results, including that praising students does not lead to any greater level of excellence or even motivation. Negative feedback also does not help.Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 3.31.47 PM Instead, Hymer advocates engaged, attentive, and non-judgmental feedback, which he said helps create self-motivated students who then cultivate the love of learning for themselves. These types of students outperform all other categories by as much as 30%, said Hymer. An example of this from the go community would be the kinds of questions one asks in a teaching game: “What were you hoping to achieve when you went here? How do you think your opponent might respond? Were there other places you thought of playing, and why?” Getting a student to think about how they reached their decisions is key to creating autonomous learners in Hymer’s approach.

Hymer’s presentation was followed by an equally engaging one from Jorge Nuno Silva, of the University of Lisbon (Portugal). Professor Silva gave a lecture on the intellectual history of games in education. Drawing on games from across the centuries (most now completely forgotten) Silva illustrated how and why games are important to learning. Along the way he fascinated the audience with stories of strange and interesting games, including Rythmomachia: ”Invented as a pedagogical game, to help the teaching of Arithmetic, in the 11th century. Even the setup of the pieces on the board was an important experience. It was popular everywhere where Boethius’ Arithmetic was taught. It vanished, naturally, in the 17th century, as mathematics developed in a different way. Chess then took over.”jorge

The seminar continued with presentations from teachers and specialists from all over the world. Daniela Trinks of Myongji University in Korea spoke on the didactics of go, and Stefan Löffler spoke on the didactics of chess. Mads Jacobsen, from Denmark, spoke about the extraordinary success of chess programs in his country, where 30% of all schools have chess as a scheduled activity. Toby Manning of the British Go Association, and Paul Barchilon of the American Go Foundation both spoke on efforts to introduce go to more schools in their respective countries. “The beautiful rooms of Cambridge University provided a wonderful environment for these two days of learning, teaching, discussing, inspiration and forming cooperations,” said Daniela Trinks. “The success of this seminar proves once more that chess and go teachers shouldn’t see each other as rivals but as colleagues who have a lot in common. By sharing our experiences we can learn from each other, improve teaching praxis and develop more successful educational programs at schools in the future.”

The main organizers were John Foley, Stefan Löffler, Rita Atkins and John Upham from Chessplus. The seminar was sponsored by DeepMind, and supported by the British Go Association, the European Go Federation, the European Go Cultural Centre, the American Go Foundation and the UK Backgammon Federation. An online documentation of the seminar, including videos, photos and presentation files is planned. Interested readers can see the program, and associated slideshows, for all segments highlighted in blue on this page. -Story and photos by Paul Barchilon, E-J Youth Editor. Top: Seminar participants take a break on the lawn at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge;  Lower right: Slide from Dr. Barry Hymer’s presentation; Lower left: Professor Jorge Nuno Silva shows the board for Rythmomachia.