17 August 2014

The Scholastic Chess Facilitators Crisis

Last month Slashdot.org started a discussion titled How to Fix the Shortage of K-5 Scholastic Chess Facilitators.

The good news, writes Michael Thomas, is that wired kids are learning chess at an unprecedented rate. [...] But the bad news, laments Thomas, is there is so much demand for scholastic chess that there are not enough experienced chess facilitators to go around.

Who is Michael Thomas? He is the author of a piece on Sas.com -- that's the company that produces 'Business Analytics' software -- titled, Solving the scholastic chess facilitation puzzle

Young digital natives are learning chess at an unprecedented rate. [...] Chess is a gateway to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. We grown-ups must optimize the chess-to-STEM pipeline, but how?

Thomas offers three solutions (these are quotes):-

  • Brain implants.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) approach. [...] To digitally thing-ify the chess pieces
  • Augmented Reality (AR) approach.

Brain implants? 'A chess facilitator brain implant would be wired between perception and cognition. You would just look at the board and know if it is checkmate.' When I first read this I was certain the article was a joke, but it is dated 11 July, not 1 April. Moreover, the author's bio page (which he probably wrote himself) says,

Michael Thomas, Software Architect in the SAS R&D Technology Office. He is the author of three books, several papers for SAS Global Forum and a recent article in SASCOM magazine, “Using virtual reality to understand big data.” He is also a long time member of the SAS Chess Club.

It links to another Thomas article, Scholastic chess: A gateway to STEM education, which starts,

For a lot of North Carolina chess families, this past weekend was action-packed. It was the 40th North Carolina K-12 Chess Championship, a three day event hosted by Chess Achieves and sponsored by SAS.

Except for a few wild claims, like 'openings that this weekend's more advanced players deployed date back to the 14th century', the piece wants to be taken seriously. 'Solving the puzzle' must be equally serious, so let's get back to Slashdot on 'How to Fix the Shortage of Scholastic Chess Facilitators'. The 128 comments might not be numbered at Yahoo levels, as in my post from last year The Graffiti Wall - Is Chess a Sport?, but they are collectively at a different level of thoughtfulness. Some examples (more quotes):-

  • What will we as a society do with an unprecedented crisis such as this looming?
  • Every minute playing chess would be better spent learning about algorithms, computer programming, or biology.
  • The issue is with schools cutting extra-curriculum activities, because the teachers want to get paid, and the schools can't afford it.
  • Do we really need to promote chess playing to a group of imaginative, energetic children who have just barely grasped the concept of role-taking [...] Did they do something to earn this sort of punishment?
  • I am a full-time chess coach for K-5 kids. [...] This solution is addressing a problem that doesn't actually exist.
  • So are you saying [...] that you need more people to stop the children from throttling each other when they lose?

Etc. etc. Another comment was 'the [Thomas] article is written tongue in cheek'. Maybe my first impression was right after all.

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