Conceptual versus Procedural Learning (in Math)

Chess knights greet entrants seeking mathematical knowledge

“Conceptual understanding in math is the creation of a robust framework representing the numerous and interwoven relationships between mathematical ideas, patterns, and procedures.  This framework can be used to coherently integrate new knowledge and solve unfamiliar problems.
From a neuroscience perspective, conceptual learning requires schemas. Schemas are all about connections, and building schemas of mathematical concepts gives students the ability to solve problems they haven’t seen before.”

Ki Karou, Director of ST Math Content

Since the mid 20th century, math pedagogy in the US has increasingly favored a conceptual approach.

For advocates of Chess in Education (CIE), chess offers a powerful tool to build a conceptual understanding of math in children. While the Internet is awash in clever programs that gamify the teaching of early math, chess provides an immediate, direct, and tactile offline tool for teachers.

With CIE training, chess becomes a simple, flexible aid that engages students and allows them to build mental schemas that connect abstract concepts, visual patterns, and written procedures. Some of these schemas are inherent in chess training.  However, many schema beneficial to math instruction need to be crafted by the instructor, using exercises to promote discovery and improve long-term retention. Tools for doing this can be found in CIE training courses and materials.

Further Reading

Building Conceptual Understanding – a half-hour interview by Mind Research Institute with Ki Karou, Director of ST Math Content

Chess and Mathematics in Primary Schools – a European Union program: ERASMUS

Teaching Mathematics through Chess [ECU102] – a class offering by Chess Plus, a CIE Coalition member

Chess in Schools – a US-based non-profit organization specializing in training, certification, and consulting to educators in CIE, and a CIE Coalition member.