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Carver using chess to sharpen minds, skills
Teachers say it helps students in math, more
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Will Cox, left, and Jonatan Rodriguez square off for the fifth grade title during the gifted resource classes' week-long chess tournament at Carver Elementary. - photo by Jeff Whitte

A game some say dates back at least 1,500 years is helping Richmond Hill kids learn everything from math to map reading.

Gifted resource students at Carver Elementary are using chess to help sharpen critical thinking skills and more, thanks to teachers Pam Walker and Angela Smith.

The two teachers decided to bring chess to the classroom after attending a conference for educators in Athens last spring. There they met Pat and Steve Schneider, both former teachers who’ve created a curriculum for teaching chess in school.

“I was amazed,” said Smith, who teaches fifth grade and had never 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, and then moving on to another pieces – was intriguing.

“After meeting them, we decided to try it this year, and the kids are delighted,” she said. “They love it, and they’ve learned a lot, we believe.”
So far, 20 fifth graders and 19 fourth graders have been learning chess this way. The majority – about 28 of them – had never played the game before, based on an informal count. But they got plenty of hands-on learning over the past seven weeks in their gifted resource classes.

It led to tournaments for both fourth and fifth graders --- Will Cox and Jonatan Gonzalez squared off Friday for the title in fifth grade; Cole Goldhill won the trophy in fourth grade by defeating Cody Foust. Afterward, students got Chessman cookies as a reward.

But the biggest winner may have been the 39 kids who took the class.

Evan Lowrimore, Audrey Hudson and Madison Tuttle were among the fifth graders in Wilson’s gifted resource class who like the game. Evan said he’s been playing for about 2-1/2 years. They liked the game.

“It’s a fun game, there’s a lot of different pieces in it,” he said.

Audrey, who had never 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.
“After I learned how to move a few pieces and got familiar with the game I started teaching my friend how to play,” Madison said.

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 – Madison’s cousin – and Andrew Braman also gave the game a thumbs up.

Analise said it was the strategy she liked. “I really like the strategic thinking involved in it,” she 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,” Andrew 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.”

And for Lucy, it was a little bit of cause and effect that made her 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.

Players also had favorite chess pieces. In Smith’s class, all three liked the queen best because of her ability to move in any direction and any number of spaces.

In Walker’s class, Andrew was the sole dissenter.

He went with the king.

“Without the king there’d be no end to the game,” he said. “Also, the king can move in any direction, but he can only move one spot … sometimes it just frustrates me.”

But both Lucy and Analise said the queen was best, though Analise also thought the knight was cool.

“I like the queen the best because she can move in any direction and she can move as much as she wants,” Lucy said. “She’s like all the other pieces except the knight, because the knight can jump over her.”

Analise had an additional reason for liking the queen and knight, which reminds one kids are still kids.

“My favorite chess piece is probably the queen or knight,” she said. “Those two have neat ways to move, and I also like how you can just make up stories about them.”

All six students said they planned to keep on playing. But they weren’t sure chess was more fun than playing on an X-Box.

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 into the future 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.

She also said the ability of the students to pick up the game was amazing.

“I’m not kidding you, but they can all beat me,” she said. “They’re not just moving pieces around, they know they’re moving it here because this is about to happen, or there to make that happen, and that’s what this is all about.”


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