Stars of Chess in Education Gather in Dallas Print E-mail
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
November 28, 2011
Dr. Alexey Root, organizer of the Koltanowski Conference
Dallas, Texas -- To establish more chess programs in public schools, chess program leaders should learn today’s education lingo and be prepared to explain how the principles of chess align with state education standards.

That was one of the major points made Nov. 18-19 here at the 2nd George Koltanowski Memorial Conference on Chess and Education.

 “This is our work. This is what we need to do,” said Damian Nash, a Colorado-based schoolteacher who is developing a chess curriculum that he says will help educators use chess to reach the various education objectives mandated by the states.

 “In every subject area, content standards keep growing,” Nash said during a presentation titled “Academic Chess.”

 “We need to demonstrate that what the kids are doing through chess is the equivalent of state process standards.”

Nash’s talk was just one of several in which speakers stressed how chess should be used to help students develop various academic skills -- particularly higher order thinking skills, such as sequencing -- and not necessarily to help them become the next grandmaster.

 “The key to making chess a productive educational tool is you really have to make sure kids are learning what they need to learn about the basics of chess,” said Stephen A. Lipschultz, a medical doctor and creator of the Think Like a King school chess software system, available on USCF Sales. 

He said a key goal for chess educators is to get students from just knowing the moves and rules of the game to being able to think productively through a game.

 “If you can get kids to that point and have them do that repeatedly, from the perspective of improving children’s cognitive and executive functioning skills, you can accomplish what chess can potentially bring kids in education,” Lipschultz said. “Beyond that, you’re talking about making kids excellent chess players.”

While developing excellent chess players is fine, Lipschultz said, it goes beyond what chess programs need to accomplish in school.

Throughout the conference -- sponsored by the U.S. Chess Trust and the University of Texas at Dallas   -- various speakers shared several tips, tactics and strategies on how to use chess to create lively and meaningful lessons that will benefit students over the board as well as in school, their future careers and life.

In a workshop called “Chess Training,” Lior Lapid, a chess educator in New Mexico, said he has his students act as “lawyers” who must make the case for whether Black or White has best position in a particular game configuration.

This lawyerly exercise is in line with Lapid’s view that children learn better when they can explain the rationale behind the solution to a particular problem -- a checkmate problem, for example -- as opposed to just being shown a solution without being asked to figure it out on their own.

 “If I have the kids articulate what they’re doing, why a move is good or bad, those kids are more likely to be able to repeat the checkmate the next time,” Lapid said.

Kevin O'Connell, Secretary of the FIDE Chess in Schools Commission
Conference organizer Dr. Alexey Root, shared “The Castling Game,” a method she developed to help students learn the importance of castling early. Root, the 1989 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, teaches college-credit chess in education courses at the University of Texas at Dallas

 “We keep telling them this until we’re blue in the face, but somehow they don’t do it,” Root said of castling early.

To help solve the problem of late castling or non-castling, “The Castling Game” is a a short and simple variation of chess where whoever castles first wins, “and that drives home the point,” Root said.

The game is one of many that will be featured in her forthcoming book, Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5-14, (Mongoose Press, 2012). You can find Dr. Root's previous books, including People, Places Checkmate on USCF Sales. 

thumb_Endgame_Image_web.jpgThe capstone of the Koltanowski chess and education conference was a keynote address titled “What We Can Learn from Bobby Fischer,” by Dr. Frank Brady, author  of Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall -- from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness. 

Brady used Fischer’s chess life to poignantly summarize what many conference speakers said about how chess educators should avoid an overemphasis on winning.

 “Yes, Bobby Fischer wanted to win above else, but he did say, ‘All I want to do ever is play chess,’” Brady said. “He didn’t say win at chess. Only a person who cold love the game could say something like that.

 “Of course, chess teachers should show students the path to victory,” Brady continued. “But chess is such a wonderful lyrical pursuit, that if we can figure a way to incorporate in every one of our lessons, why a particular move or a combination or series of moves, especially if it’s not so evident, can be considered as melodic as a piece of music .... or a painting by Rembrandt or Monet, or a poem  by Shelley or Yeats, I think we’re coming along.

 “Teach the students to embrace the aesthetics of the game, not just to lust over winning,” Brady said, “and you will lead them to great enjoyment and possibly a fulfilling life.”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim is an after-school chess instructor and community program developer with Chess Challenge in D.C. He can be reached at immortalgame360 at yahoo dot com
. Look for an article on the Koltinowski conference by Former USCF President, Dr. Tim Redman in an upcoming issue of Chess Life Magazine.