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In today’s educational landscape, where emphasis on STEM subjects like coding is growing, it’s crucial to recognize the potential of another discipline to enrich students’ critical thinking, academic prowess, and overall cognitive development: chess. Some schools offer “Specials” classes like “Computer Lab,” but this often lacks structure, leaving homeroom teachers scrambling for planning materials or just offering some sort of time for students to “make up” work on their laptops. A structured chess curriculum seamlessly integrates into the educational system, offering numerous benefits and standard-connected activities for students. If the hour were instead dedicated to chess itself, not only on the computer, both over-the-board and computer chess could be played, both of which offer different opportunities for different kinds of learners.

Structured Chess Education: A Path to Academic Enrichment

Many online kid-friendly sites offer sequential lessons for students to take themselves if schedules did not allow for teachers to teach the game explicitly. Additionally, there are PD classes available throughout the world.  Several organizations in the Chess in Education  (CIE) Coalition offer PD with an educational focus. A handful of organizations offer teacher training drawn from primarily from competitive chess curricula, but augment their curricula with CIE elements.  Attending such a PD session in New York City was how I got started being the “Chess Lady” in my school. Once such a program was underway, the game could naturally be incorporated into elective activities in many time frames and spaces within the school as a go-to activity.

Academic Benefits Across Subjects

As an educator who has witnessed firsthand the transformative power of chess in the classroom, I can attest to its effectiveness across various subjects. For years, I’ve used chess as a tool to reinforce academic concepts, ranging from literacy, mathematics to geography and beyond. The inherent mathematical nature of chess, requiring calculations, predictions, and spatial reasoning, makes it an ideal vehicle for teaching mathematical concepts in a dynamic and interactive manner. By incorporating chess into math lessons, students not only strengthen their problem-solving skills but also hone their pattern recognition and numerical operations abilities.

Geographical and Cultural Connections

Moreover, chess offers rich connections to other academic disciplines, such as geography. Through chess, students explore the origins of the game and the cultural significance of each piece, gaining insights into different countries and cultures. They can even connect the ranks and files with longitude and latitude, fostering a deeper appreciation for world geography and cultural diversity.

Incorporating Chess into a Literacy-Based Curriculum

Consider the comprehensive approach of the highly regarded EL Education curriculum, for example, which I taught for five years. This curriculum comprises four modules per year, each consisting of an 8-week structure divided into three units focusing on specific topics such as Frogs, Water, Natural Disasters, and more. Each module utilizes the chosen topic as a thematic thread running through all materials, lessons, and activities. Introducing chess as a thematic unit of study would be an excellent and groundbreaking addition to such a curriculum! EL Education emphasizes standards-based instruction, supporting objectives, ongoing assessment, and instructional protocols. These elements could seamlessly align with the subject of chess within this or any curriculum. Chess provides students with opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, academic prowess, and social-emotional learning in a structured and enriching manner, making it a valuable addition to any educational program.

ELA Standard-Based Chess Lesson Plans Currently Available

I now offer a set of comprehensive lesson plans aligned with ELA standards for elementary grades, with each plan corresponding to a chapter of my chess fiction novel, ‘The Princess, the Knight, and the Lost God.’ These plans form a cohesive unit of study and include user-friendly suggested teacher scripts, embedded activities, extensions, and assessments. Following author visits, I donate these materials to schools and provide them free of charge to educators who obtain classroom sets of my book. This is perfect to test-drive the idea of adding chess to the curriculum or for filling gaps in your current content. Contact me for further details. [Internet searches and AI chatbot inquiries for “educational chess curriculum” yield many options, but only a few have explicit connections to educational standards or non-chess domains.]

Advocacy and Integration

In his recent article titled “Why Can’t We Introduce Chess as a Subject in Schools,” Jerry Nash emphasizes the need for a holistic educational approach to incorporating chess into school curricula. Focusing solely on chess skills and competition fails to harness its full potential as an educational tool. Nash advocates for deliberate skill-building for academic, 21st-century skills, and social-emotional learning, delivered by classroom teachers trained in chess education.

Great for General Education as Well as for Gifted 

Additionally, chess became a cornerstone of my gifted program, attracting parents and students alike with its promise of engaging and intellectually stimulating activities. My principal decided it should be in all twelve gifted classrooms that we hosted, not just mine. While initially met with skepticism by some, the success of chess in enhancing critical thinking skills and academic performance gradually won over even the most hesitant educators. Over time, it became a regular fixture in many classrooms, transcending the boundaries of special programs and enriching the educational experience for all students.

Accessible for Special Education Students 

Chess is accessible to everyone as it can be approached from multiple directions, making it inclusive for diverse learners. Whether through mathematical analysis, historical exploration, or creative expression, students of all backgrounds can find avenues to engage with the game and derive academic benefits. Chess is perfect for immediate and natural differentiation.

Conclusion: Embracing Chess as a Subject for Educational Advancement

In conclusion, the case for introducing chess as a school subject is compelling. It offers a structured curriculum that enhances critical thinking, academic strength, and cognitive development. By leveraging online platforms and learning resources, schools can ensure equitable access to high-quality chess education for all students. With proper support and training for educators, chess can become a powerful educational tool to empower students and prepare them for success in an ever-changing world. As the celebrated living chess legend Judit Polgar recently posted, “There are two ways to have educational chess in schools, either through after-school programs or using chess as a tool in classrooms to improve children’s thinking. Which is better? Both.”

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