Chess is helping Richmond Hill kids learn everything from math to map reading.
Gifted-resource students at Carver Elementary are using the game to help sharpen critical-thinking skills and more. Teachers Pam Walker and Angela Smith decided to bring chess to the classroom after attending a conference for educators who teach gifted students last spring in Athens. There, they met former teachers Pat and Steve Schneider, who’ve created a curriculum for teaching chess in school.
“I was amazed,” said Smith, who teaches fifth grade and never had played the game before, so is learning it along with her students. “We talked with them, and then he and his wife came to our school back in the summer and met with Miss Walker and I, and took us through the curriculum. And then (Carver Principal Crystal Morales) backed us up and got us the chess pieces and boards, and we’ve been teaching it since.”
Walker, who teaches fourth-graders, said the Schneiders’ method of teaching chess to kids by focusing on one piece at a time — starting with the pawn and learning how it moves, and then how it works with other pieces — was intriguing.
So far, 20 fifth-graders and 19 fourth-graders have been learning chess this way. About 28 of them never had played the game before, based on an informal count. But they received plenty of hands-on learning over the last seven weeks in their gifted-resource classes.
It led to tournaments for both fourth- and fifth-graders. Will Cox and Jonatan Gonzalez squared off for the title in fifth grade; Cole Goldhill won the trophy in fourth grade by defeating Cody Foust.
Evan Lowrimore, Audrey Hudson and Madison Tuttle are among the fifth-graders in Wilson’s class who like the game. Evan said he’s been playing for about 2½ years.
“It’s a fun game. There’s a lot of different pieces in it,” he said.
Audrey, who never had played before, was more emphatic in her endorsement after she reached the semifinals of the tournament.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m asking for a chess set for my birthday. I like the challenge that it has and the thinking. I think it helps in math, problem-solving and in reading charts.”
Madison also had never played chess prior to this school year, but before long was teaching the game to a friend.
As to why chess helps students in other classes, she said it’s having to think about strategy.
“I think it is the thinking challenge, because you have to think ahead and make sure your move is correct,” Madison said.
Fourth-graders Analise Izquierdo, Lucy Tuttle and Andrew Braman also gave the game a thumbs-up.
“I really like the strategic thinking involved in it,” Analise said.
For Andrew, it was the interaction between pieces.
“The main thing I liked about chess was the moves of all the pieces and how they captured, and how they moved,” he said. “Just with the thinking, you think a lot of steps in front of your move you’re making right now. It kind of makes it a little difficult.”
A little bit of cause and effect that made Lucy a fan.
“Each time you move a piece, you have to know what you’re going to move next and guess what you think they’re going to move,” she said.
All six students said they planned to keep on playing.
By the end of the school year, Smith said about 200 students at Carver will have learned chess in her and Walker’s gifted-resources classes.
And Smith, also a chess beginner, said the two teachers hope to carry this on and build what amounts to a chess feeder system, which will enable them to teach more advanced concepts of the game to students in the coming years.