Checkmate: Teaching Chess to Develop Critical Thinking Skills
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Chess has been implemented as an effective tool for teaching students higher order thinking skills, strategic planning, and decision making in nearly 30 nations around the world. Chess is all about thinking strategically and foreseeing consequences, weighing options and making strategic decisions which makes it a perfect teaching and learning tool.

What does the research say?

Strategic gaming is classified as having a lack of random elements or chance and seems to require higher decision-making skills. Typical examples of strategic gaming are chess, SimCity, and Go. Examinations of the most popular theory among chess researchers seem to demonstrate that chess programming correlates significantly with an increase in standardized test scores (Forrest, et al., 2005; Liptrap, 1999).

Students benefit from critical thinking, memory retention, group problem solving, and social interaction that chess requires, enabling them to transfer the intellectual, social, and emotional skills they practice into their daily lives.

“Students tend to be tentative and want someone else to do their work for them, give them the answer, or figure it out for them, but with chess games … they are forced to think for themselves in a fun way which builds their confidence.”

Principal Warden Elementary School (WA), Jill Massa

Sartell Middle School in Sartell, MN, runs a successful chess club. According to one of their students: “Chess is like a more advanced form of checkers. You have to use lots of strategy. And it can help your grades. I’ve noticed my grades improve.” 

 Another sixth-grader from the same school says that while Wii games were her favorite thing, chess gives her an alternative. “ … sometimes I like to do stuff that’s more quiet. It just depends on how I’m feeling.”- The Daily Times from Salisbury, Maryland. 

More Academic Benefits:

Chess also teaches students to focus by improving attention span and concentration. By practising the game of chess, students are taught the benefits of observing carefully and concentrating in order to plan their next best move as well as to preempt how their partner will move next. This acquired skill of keen observation is also an integral part of the scientific method for teaching and learning.  

Here are some interesting facts about how chess helps your brain:

  • Playing chess actually grows the part of your brain that conducts brain signals and the area that coordinates planning, judgment and self-control.
  •  Playing chess helps develop creativity by activating the right side of your brain.
  • Studies show that chess playing students have improved both their reading and overall IQ scores over their non-chess playing counterparts.

Not only does chess improve learning abilities and foster higher order thinking skills, it also crosses all socioeconomic boundaries as it has no language barriers. Everyone is equal on the chessboard. Even students who have problems with language proficiency or those who shy away from public speaking find success with chess, because they don’t face language barriers on the chessboard.

First Move – America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C):

The First Move program was launched in 2000, enabling teachers across the US to engage young minds by teaching critical and creative thinking skills through the game of Chess.

Implementing First Move

First Move is taught by ‘The Chess Lady’ through an easy-to-use online platform with built in activities and assessment. Educators facilitate the hands-on, group learning activities. It works in a classroom setting or for out-of-school programs that want strong educational tools.

Critical and Creative Thinking Skills

Students learn to analyze, plan, and execute on the chessboard and replicate this in real life. Learning to think ahead, working through a multi-step problem, and collaborating helps them acquire important skills to prepare them for the 21st century.

Easy and Engaging

It was designed so teachers don’t need to know how to play chess to be successful. Students are engaged and actively participate in activities, without realizing how much they are learning.

Meets Academic Standards

It’s not about kings, queens and rooks; but rather quadrants, coordinates, analysis and planning. First Move is targeted to the academic standards of second and third graders, although it can be used across multiple grade levels.

Success is Built-In

Students and teachers may think an activity looks difficult, but if they follow the directions, they will “win.” This helps develop confidence to take on challenges in school, sports, and life.

Skills Transfer Beyond Chess

First Move is cross-curricular with ties to math, reading, history and science.

Great Chess Players… Born or Made?

Judit Polgár, (born July 23, 1976), a Hungarian chess player, the youngest of three chess-playing sisters, earned the International Master (IM) chess title at the age of 12 and set a new record by becoming the youngest International Grandmaster (GM) in history at the age of 15 years 4 months. Judit also defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Judit learnt Chess as part of an experiment by her father as evidence that child prodigies and geniuses are made, not born.

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