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Monday, October 26, 2015

Computer games can help develop logical thinking

Photo: Patrick Fitzpatrick
"Opinion: We can introduce logic and the work of George Boole to students using games and puzzles." according to Patrick Fitzpatrick, emeritus professor of mathematics at University College Cork.

Logical thinking is a central element in the learning process. For more than two millenniums, logic has been the basis of rational argument. It is essential for learning, not just in mathematics and sciences, but in all parts of the curriculum. Being able to see when one proposition follows from another, to recognise correct or flawed logic, and to think critically, are vital not only to the school student but to the informed citizen.

Photo: Irish Times

This use of computer games to convey the fundamental concepts of logic has proved controversial, especially in the light of the recent OECD report Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection, (PDF) which indicated Ireland, with its below-average computer time in school, has better learning outcomes in maths and literacy than in countries where computers were used for five or six hours a day. As the report suggests, “limited use . . . is better than no use at all, but levels of computer use above the current OECD average are associated with significantly poorer results”.

Although no direct causal relation is claimed, it seems what counts is the quality rather than the quantity of interactions with technology.

I am not advocating that children should spend a lot of time in school playing computer games, although some computer games, such as Minecraft, encourage a high level of creativity in the player. But the OECD report suggests that we should embrace modern technology, and instead of “adding 21st-century technology to 20th-century teaching methods” we should explore how best to incorporate it into our classrooms. The presentation of logic in UCC Brings Boole2School, through the medium of computer games, is consistent with that.

Surf at wil Genuine incorporation of technology into learning, rather than permission to surf at will, requires a lot of work, and support for teachers and principals. The commitments in the government’s Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, such as embedding the use of technology throughout teacher education, are welcome.

UCC Brings Boole2School is part of the programme of events developed by University College Cork to mark the bicentenary of the birth of George Boole, the first professor of mathematics at the university (then Queen’s College Cork).

The idea is to introduce the basic notions of logic to schoolchildren, from late primary to Leaving Cert, using examples from computer games and logic puzzles.

Boole’s translation of logic into algebra led directly to the creation of the computer via the work of Claude Shannon at MIT, who showed that the increasingly complex switching circuits required by telephone networks could be both analysed and synthesised using Boolean algebra.

Source: Irish Times