Connecting Chess to the NH Classroom
Article by Jerry Nash, National Chess Education Consultant
September in New Hampshire brings with it cool nights, great scenic vistas of vibrant colors. Fall also means the start of school and, for many teachers, chess. Paul Roberts, New England Regional Events Coordinator for Chess in Schools, and I were invited to visit six schools to help kick off their fall chess programming.
Alyson Strobel, at Grinnell Elementary in Derry, organized a Parent Night that highlighted the values of chess. I introduced some beginning chess activities that the students and their family members could enjoy together. Betsy Damon at Beech Street Elementary invited me to present a chess lesson to help kick off their after-school programming. Susan Auger, a teacher at Webster Elementary, arranged for me to give a chess lesson to her class as she begins to implement the Chess in Schools methodologies.
In Conway, New Hampshire, we met Judi Preston at Pine Tree Elementary and I taught several mini-games to her chess club. We then proceeded with Judi to Kennett High School where I gave several short lessons to her Chess Club. Afterward I played a simultaneous exhibition against three of the high school chess club members.
Our last stop was Dover High School where I was challenged by the chess club run by Eric Schlapak to play all the members in simultaneous games. Later that evening, we met with parents at Dover High School and discussed next steps to expand chess instruction in Dover’s elementary and middle schools.
Strong kick-off and culminating activities are key to a successful chess in education program. Goals for such activities include building student interest and garnering community support. Chess in Schools looks forward to new opportunities to help New Hampshire schools to use chess as an educational tool to help students build academic and 21st century skills.
Last year, Barbara Cook told her fourth-grade students that once they finished their class assignments they could either read, do homework, play an online math game or learn how to play chess. She never expected all 19 of them to choose chess. For the rest of the year, chess consumed the Deerfield Community School students, who would take their boards outside during recess, and arrive each morning eager to sit down and finish a game that had started the afternoon before. “I was amazed that, given the choice, every child in my class decided to take that on and help each other,” Cook said. “The kids felt proud of themselves that they learned chess. Some were even teaching their parents.” … [Excerpt from the Concord Monitor By EILEEN O’GRADY Monitor staff Published: 7/17/2022]
Those of us involved in chess like to think. We have an email group at Chess in Schools, and recently a member posted an article about connections between chess and mathematics. Specifically, it referred to Singapore and reported school math success there.
Having been in the public school educational system for 30 years now, there are so many differences between the two countries that it’s difficult to blindly say that Singapore is “better.” However, the article’s author did bring up an interesting point that piqued my interest and how it relates to chess. The article indicated they felt one of the reasons for Singapore’s success compared to the United States was because of the larger amount of professional development.
Professional Development. When you are a teacher, these two words cause your shoulders to slump. Not because teachers don’t want to stay on top of their game, but because the system is flawed. In short, PD is inserted into a teacher’s schedule as sort of an extra hurdle to jump over in the course of a school year. Teachers do not look forward to it. The game that happens is how can teachers use the time to decompress from the ultra-busy daily grind.
In the fall of 2021, I was fortunate to take the 20+ hours of Chess in Schools training from Jerry Nash. As a classroom teacher, I found it to be one of the best uses of professional development time in my career. Yes, admittedly I love chess. The game. The culture. The history. I got a lot of ideas on how to teach the game during Tuesday afternoon Chess Club. But as an experienced math teacher, I was also able to take Jerry’s lessons and apply them to how I would teach concepts in Algebra because everything about the game is higher-level thinking. And that is what I strive to accomplish each day. I was a history major in college and have experience as an English teacher. The benefits of learning how to teach chess will help every middle and high school educator, regardless of discipline. That I believe. For elementary teachers in a self-contained classroom, the benefits are even greater. With schedule flexibility, you can have chess be a station or rotation as part of your daily routine. And because of the added higher-thinking skills brought into your classroom, it will probably help your students see greater success in traditional areas such as reading, math, and writing.
But I caution districts who try to jam chess into a Friday afternoon PD window, not to use the full 20+ hour program. Teachers will see it as “just another PD activity.”
1) Set Kids Up for Chess Self-Learning
For Certified CIE Instructors:
a) Find a way for kids to learn and play chess over the Summer!
b) Encourage students to improve their skills through self-study!
For Educators and Parents
2) Piggy-back on Summer School Programs
Are there summer school or community programs where chess would fit in as a sideline activity? Often just playing a chess game in a public space is sufficient to draw curious onlookers.
Chess in Schools Program Coordinator Karen Deighan (and a Certified Level 1 CIE Instructor based in New Hampshire) is looking into opportunities for connecting chess with youth. She writes:
“This summer Granite Gambit will be integrating free chess experiences into existing youth programs as well as creating new opportunities for youth to learn chess and to have fun playing chess. Plans include offering chess programs as part of summer learning experiences at schools and recreation departments. We will also schedule an event called Chess in the Park, where youth will have the opportunity to play chess with others and celebrate with the movie Queen of Katwe on the big screen.
For more information or for support for your chess event, reach out to Paul Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
3) Offer Gold ChessKid Licenses to Interested Students
How to Request CK Gold Licenses
- name and location of your school
- the full name and email address of each participating teacher
- the number of student CK licenses you need to get started
4) Suggest Parents take an active interest in their child’s Chess activities
5) Take part in a local scholastic chess tournament
May 21, 2022 in Harrisville, NH
6) Promote Chess in Education (CIE) articles of interest through your own communication and social media channels
Article by Eric Schlapak, M.Ed, J.D. Schlapak is a math teacher at Dover High School in New Hampshire, education consultant, writer, and certified Chess in Education Instructor.
Those in their 50s and 60s may recall that it was 50 years ago this year when Bobby Fischer became the first American to win the World Chess Championship by beating Russian Boris Spassky. It was an event that captured the attention of the United States public. In 2022, the world is in the midst of a second chess boom, after the pandemic and success of the popular Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit.
In New Hampshire, the Granite State, teachers have the opportunity to bring the many benefits of chess into their schools and classrooms. Jerry Nash is the National Chess Education Consultant for Chess in Schools, a US-based non-profit with a mission to help bring life skills and critical thinking to the classroom. Through a grant from the New Hampshire Department of Education, Nash and Chess in Schools are providing a four-day workshop, free to New Hampshire educators – The Granite Gambit.
Nash, who is also a senior advisor for the Chess in Education Commission of FIDE (the international chess federation), has had over 20 years of experience training and working with teachers in schools. He has seen first-hand the benefit of bringing chess into schools.
“Consistently those educators agree that chess fits perfectly with the goals of education to produce students who can think creatively, make good decisions under time pressure, and learn from their mistakes.”
“My hope for New Hampshire teachers is that they will discover for themselves how chess can transform their students by giving them the skills they need to be successful in and beyond the classroom. I also hope that the question is no longer, ‘Why should we have chess in our school?’ but rather, ‘Why do we not already have a chess program?”
The first rounds of Level 1 Chess in Schools training in New Hampshire occurred in October and November. Another round is scheduled to begin on January 14, with spots still available. Attendance has been full and teachers have enjoyed the class time, using the training in different ways in the classroom.
A unique aspect of the training is that even those teachers who are new to chess can return to their school with a plethora of strategies and mini-games that can help both novice students and those with experience. Simply put, you don’t need to be a grandmaster to be an effective teacher of chess in the school setting.
One teacher who had deep chess experience when he arrived for the training was Stijn Brand, the science department chair at Hopkinton High School. Brand was the 2014 New Hampshire Amateur Champion.
“When I came to the workshop, it was not for the chess content, but for ways to teach students chess and how to run a club. I got a lot of ideas from the training. It was good to see Jerry teach the ideas of the game to beginners and I will be using those strategies.”
Brand reports that Hopkinton has been getting about 14 students for the newly-formed after school chess club. He has a range of abilities there and sees the club expanding. “One of our middle-school teachers will be taking the next training so we can keep it growing.”
Clubs are one avenue for bringing chess into a school, but chess is something that can be woven into the regular curriculum. At the Hollis Primary School, Sarah Proulx is the media specialist and Penny Currier is a classroom teacher. Following the training, they began to implement chess at all grade levels at HPS. One week the teachers used story elements with a lesson on setting up the chessboard. Another week the students “read the board” using coordinates that chess players use to identify the squares, incorporating math graphing principles.
During the four days of CIS training, teachers learn and play a lot of mini-games. These are activities that help new players learn about the piece movement along with basic strategy. For a young person to learn the different moves and capturing techniques of six different pieces can be overwhelming. What makes these attractive is that they can focus on individual piece movement but still have a game-like competition. This way they can build up to a regular game of chess.
“The students are really enjoying the mini-games and learning as well. They are picking things up faster than we anticipated and excitement is building each week,” said Proulx.
On a worldwide scale, chess has taken on a boom not seen since the Fischer championship of the early 1970s. The site, chess.com, had a membership of around 30 million when the world first heard of Covid-19. As of November 2021, there were about 75 million members.
“The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges already faced by educators. How do we engage students? How do we help them deal with lost opportunities for learning? How can we help them to become better critical thinkers? The Queen’s Gambit opened a window to many who were not already familiar with chess on how the game can improve critical thinking skills and be a tool for social-emotional learning.”
Judy Preston is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in SAU 9, the district including Conway. She travels to different schools and is thrilled to have been a part of the training. Preston visits different schools and classrooms as part of her position. Some of her students are as young as kindergarten.
“The students love chess. Many of my students are new to the US and chess has helped scaffold their learning. They are able to connect vocabulary in a setting that isn’t abstract.”
Eleven teachers were members of the first cohort of educators to be trained under the state’s Granite Gambit program. The certification is sanctioned by the US-based Chess in Schools and the European Chess Union, an international leader in the Chess in Education (CIE) movement. The four-day course CIE Instructor Training – Level 1 Certification is designed by Chess in Schools. The class draws upon work and products developed by CIE Coalition participants ChessPlus, ChessKid and Chess in Schools.
Training for a second offering of the class begins October 21. The class will be repeated in January and in the Summer of 2022. Level 1 Certificate holders will also have an opportunity to return for a Level-2 certification course in 2022.
Teachers Award High Marks for Training
Eleven of eleven teachers agreed:
- I gained new insights into chess as an educational tool. [11 strongly agree]
- The course material was presented clearly. [11 strongly agree]
- The course provided practical insights and resources that I can use in my chess program and/or classroom. [11 strongly agree]
- believe students will benefit from what I have learned during the training. [11 strongly agree]
- I would recommend this course to other educators [10 strongly agree; 1 agree]
Quotes from Participants
“The Granite Gambit training was remarkable. I have taught chess before, and I do wish I had these instructional techniques before. The mini games were eye-opening. These quick, high-interest, scalable exercises made teaching chess fun and functional. Students from all skill levels gain competency, confidence and critical thinking skills from these quick paced games. The application of these games cuts across so many content/competencies. The entire training was so valuable.”
“This course made me feel more confident as a chess player while simultaneously giving me strategies and vocabulary to teach my students. As the 4 days continued, I found countless applications to my classroom and the standards I teach. I was excited to bring the chess connections back into my classroom and the students were engaged and enthusiastic. I can’t wait to continue to use what I learned with my students.”
“The teaching sequences modeled in the course can be pretty much used as-is, with some pacing considerations, for even my youngest and most novice students.”
The NH Department of Education and Chess in Schools Announce “Granite Gambit,” a Statewide Chess in Education Initiative
Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Education announced an innovative partnership today with Chess in Schools (CIS) to establish a statewide chess in schools initiative. The program is funded using federal Title funds.
This statewide program will support training for teacher-driven chess initiatives that connect chess with core academic content, helping to build student engagement. Beyond the academic content, the game of chess builds skills in critical thinking, logic, strategy, and creativity. The program will run for 2-years and allow interested schools to build the capacity for sustainable programming.
“The game of chess has become incredibly popular with students as a result of the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit,” stated Frank Edelblut, commissioner of education. “The research is clear that when we engage students with their areas of interest, the learning is deeper and richer. We called the program Granite Gambit. A gambit is defined as a device or action as a calculated risk to gain an advantage. Granite Gambit will give both our educators and students an advantage.”
“The program is modeled after a program Chess in Schools began in 2015 in Alabama,” stated Jerry Nash of Chess in Schools. “Students see the program as a fun to learn exercise. Teachers embrace the program for the impact it has on making students more focused and engaged in traditional curriculum topics. We are excited to be partnering with the New Hampshire Department of Education.”
Chess in Schools is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization founded in 2015 in conjunction with its launch of the Alabama Chess in Schools program, the first statewide US Chess in Education (CIE) program in the United States. CIS specializes in preparing educators to play chess and use the game as an educational tool to teach academic and 21st century skills. The CIS team brings a wealth of experience in Chess in Education instruction. CIS’s certified CIE training includes proven methodologies developed by the European Chess Union.
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