On chess, life, and learning

Life does imitate chess. Are you ready to play?

When you are a chess player, you often hear others say, “that game is so good for you.” When you are a chess teacher, it can be difficult to put into words the enormous benefits and life-changing skills learned through chess. Most recently, my initiatives for chess education have continued to attract more people, organizations, and influential groups. This is because when I speak about chess, it is evident that it is a way to create tangible change. To take Remake Learning’s initiatives as example, chess is a way for students to express themselves intellectually and creativity. More specifically, women are using chess to demonstrate their equal potential and to create equity in the sport. Chess is learning by doing, and it is one of the few games that is so versatile that it can be played, taught, and re-invented simultaneously. In addition, chess has moved into the digital age and has been a leader in the digital field for decades by developing and strengthening online chess programming and gaming. Students, parents, and community members of all age groups are finding balance by using technology and traditional chess boards. To quote one grandmother, “It doesn’t matter where you play, as long as you are playing.” Finally, and most importantly, chess is a lifelong skill. It breaks all barriers.

Kids learn by playing chess

The Queen’s Gambit Chess Institute is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching chess to the community, ensuring every child has the necessary opportunities and tools to learn the game through a 21st-century approach, and promoting, sharing, and encouraging the educational and social benefits of playing chess. In partnership with the Pittsburgh city government, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and other educational organizations, Queen’s Gambit seeks to make the city a portable classroom for chess.

Queen’s Gambit was founded on the belief that chess provides relevant, engaging, and equitable learning experiences that can remodel how youth learn and grow. My students may not see chess as their official job (I remember when I learned you could be paid to be a chess player), but rather a tool they can use to demonstrate their potential, abilities, and qualifications. I will look more deeply into how chess ensures every child’s future by showing the connections between science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and literacy with chess. How do instructors at Queen’s Gambit teach chess to reflect all these subjects in school? I aim to show how chess, in collaboration with subjects in school, can further educate young people. This is the start of my initiative to work with Boards of Educations and governments to use this valuable game for the common good.

Science: The make-up and explanation for who we are and how we exist. The field of study with doctors, nurses, researchers, and many other important fields we rely on every day. From the perspective of an educator, chess expands the dendrites in your brain leading to cognitive development and growth. However, I am not here to discuss the why it is beneficial to play chess (yes, it does indeed make you smarter), but rather to explain how chess teachers apply the game to everyday life. Chess is known for impacting the field of science through its explanation and theoretical processes. The best example of how I teach science through chess is inspired by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. A theoretical physicist, Feynman used the rules of chess to explain complicated and changing fundamentals of physics. He said science and chess are “trying to investigate those things in which we don’t understand the conclusions.” Problem solving, discovering, re-discovering, and altering are the basics of science. When explaining Newton’s Laws, psychological illnesses, cancer, human evolution, or elements on the periodic table, chess will facilitate that process and begin to foster the skills that doctors, researchers, physicists, engineers and others need to keep the world going. In a century of going green, sustainable initiatives, and environmental studies, chess is a miniature version of life to test, re-define, and continue to improve. Students are our future leaders. Why not practice now?

Technological studies continue to grow popular in the chess world. With chess programming and analysis, the game relies heavily on technology. Sometimes, student’s first interaction with computers and other devices are online chess games. While human interaction is one component of the game, I’m creating lesson plans that urge students to program and code chess games for specific outcomes. Engineering is the creative aspect of chess. I ask my students, “How can you create the position you want to see with the parts given?” Chess is one of the few games that allows students to have a space for design with specific, real-life problems woven throughout. Chess is a makerspace.

A few years ago, I had a problem-solving moment myself. I asked, “How do I teach a student how to play chess if they cannot count or read?” Looking back, I think about how exciting that moment must have been for myself. I would be able to teach this little girl, “Rook is worth 5 points. Can you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 with me?” However, as the weeks went on, something incredible happened. She was able to count the pieces she successfully captured, “Ms. Ashley, is this 5 + 3 = 8?” The moment was not about me. This child learned basic mathematical skills through chess. As her play continues to develop, she uses algebraic notation to record her games and calculate moves. She uses mathematical processes to determine who she will play in future tournament rounds. Before she could write notation, she had to learn how to write and sound. She learned literacy through chess.

Chess is life. Life is chess. This game is a force to change the future of our world. This piece is just the beginning of explanations on chess education. I encourage teachers, parents, community members, or everyone reading to consider how they learned. Did they learn how to read by their parents? Were their first addition and subtraction problems on a blackboard in school? Did the science teacher say, “don’t touch that!” Now, think about young people today. Imagine a child learning five to ten subjects in school through one game. Incredible, right? Join the movement by tweeting #chessinglivesonemoveatatime.


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