Teachers pass on a love of chess

  • Pinkerton Academy administrator Kim Larkin makes a move at the Granite Gambit Level 2 summer chess training for educators on July 15. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Retired teacher Gene Tappen, who runs an after-school chess club at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School, moves a piece at the Granite Gambit level 2 training program for educators July 15, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Educators participating in the Granite Gambit level 2 professional development training contemplate strategy on July 15, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Jerry Nash, National Chess Education Consultant for Chess in Schools, leads a Granite Gambit professional development training session for educators July 15, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/17/2022 4:33:57 PM
Modified: 7/17/2022 4:31:03 PM

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.”

Cook, who grew up playing chess with her dad and is now a big fan of “The Queen’s Gambit” TV show on Netflix, had a good working knowledge of the game but wanted to learn how to take the strategic game further at her school. So when she heard about a summer training program teaching educators how to incorporate chess into their schools and classrooms, she decided to sign up.

The training, which is being conducted by the educational nonprofit Chess in Schools, is part of a New Hampshire Department of Education initiative called Granite Gambit, and is intended to connect chess with core academic content and build student engagement. Chess in Schools has led five training sessions in New Hampshire so far, and 30 educators, including Cook, have completed Level 1.

On Friday, a group of seven New Hampshire educators enrolled in a Level 2 class stood around a long table in a classroom at Manchester Community College contemplating four chess boards. Each of the boards had been set up by the instructors with a different strategy that the educators had to identify.

Jerry Nash, the instructor in charge of the program, says the goal of bringing chess into classrooms is to use it as a vehicle to teach the subject standards, like if a teacher uses chess to teach a math lesson, for example. It also helps build critical thinking and impulse control, Nash said.

“There’s decision making, there’s planning ahead, there’s forethought. Those skills transversely apply,” Nash said. “It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, you need those skills, whether it’s math, language arts, science, social studies, doesn’t matter. You still need those skills.”

To fit with the time constraints of a classroom, teachers may introduce mini-games with simpler rules and fewer pieces on the board that students can play in five to 15 minutes. Other lessons can incorporate elements of chess without ever playing a game. For example, Nash said, an educator could teach money math using chess pieces as currency. Or, an educator could teach coordinate graphing using the rows and columns of a chessboard.

“Most students like to play games. This is a game, so now it’s not ‘medicine,’ ” Nash said. “The students come to the teacher, ‘are we doing chess today?’ They’re excited about being involved. So now you’re introducing these skills, and students are engaged by that.”

Kim Larkin, associate dean of students at Pinkerton Academy who attended the Level 2 training Friday, introduced chess to a group of about 12 students during flex period last school year, and it garnered enough interest that one student is eager to start an after-school chess club, and is already preparing to fundraise to buy chess clocks for the games.

“The skill that students can learn goes into so many domains — critical thinking, logic, resiliency, sportsmanship,” Larkin said. “I think it’s a game that anybody can learn. I didn’t always think this, but I do now because of the way that they have broken it down with the emphasis on mini-games.”

Retired high school gym teacher Gene Tappen leads an after-school chess club at Keasarge Regional Elementary School. Tappen, who would play chess to pass the time while deployed in the Navy, said it’s fun to teach the game to students who pick it up easily.

“I’ve had at least four or five kids that are still playing,” Tappen said. “They were in my program 10, 12, 13 years ago, who are now playing in adult tournaments.”

Chess in Schools will be leading another Level 1 training for teachers August 15 to 18.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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