I'm back at the Koltanowski Conference. Since I’m cheap, I found a loophole to parking at the expensive Anatole Hilton. I parked across the highway near the Renaissance hotel in a vacant lot, and made the trek to our conference. Take that, expensive parking lot. At the beginning of today’s first session, Alexey Root told everyone she would distribute a pdf of the presenters' lecture notes. It should be available on the conference website. However, I still want to take my own notes as well.

9:10 AM Chess Training -- Chouchanik Airapetian is from Armenia. She wanted to show us the approach of the Russian chess school, and how it may apply to working with a diverse population in the classroom.

Five things that students need to be successful in chess: 1. Some kind of motivation to play outside of the chess club. Don’t call it “homework.” Call it “extra practice.” 2. The student needs some talent. 3. Parents who are helpful and act as promoters. It’s good for them to be in the classroom. 4. I missed #4. (Maybe I do need that pdf after all?) It was something to do with financial resources. I think. 5. Have a coach with tournament experience

9:15 AM You need a variety of ways to teach chess, because the students will lose interest if you only have one approach. Set aside time at the end for fun. Yes, allow them to play bughouse.

9:20 AM Instead of grouping by letters (group A, group B), group them by players names (Polgar group, Fischer group). Cute idea.

Also, give them a chance to work with their friends.

“Maybe they could do shorter trophies and more?” There has been a lot of talk these two days about concerns with rewards/motivation for scholastic chess. During the morning break, I talked with one presenter about using and adapting the karate belt system. The ELO point system stinks, because the kids can lose points and that can be hard on young players. With a belt system, they work to achieve a particular criterion or standard, and the belt can’t be taken from them once they earn it. It is a marker of progress, not just a reward with diminishing return. The “belts,” for lack of a better term, should take time to earn. Random tangent, but it’s an interesting topic to consider.

9:25 AM Chess teachers should be good all around teachers, as well as coaches. It seems that the number of girls in chess is declining, but we don’t know why specifically that’s happening. It’s helpful for girls to have peers in the club. One thought is that girls aren’t responding well to the aggressive competitive nature of boys. Our presenter has even noticed boys manipulating the rules to their benefit. Coaches need to be aware.

9:30 AM The study Airapetian references indicates that it might be helpful to have a “girl’s only” club. In those instances, the girl’s club was just as loud as the boy’s club. Airapetian isn’t too comfortable with the segregation, but there may be benefits too.

She is a big promoter of boys and girls playing together in tournaments. She’s doing graduate study on why girls leave chess clubs.

Referencing Lazlo Polgar, “geniuses aren’t born, but made through hard work.”

9:35 AM During the question and answer time, we discussed the disparity between boys and girls in chess. One participant mentioned testosterone as the prime factor. However, I referenced my dear friend and ex-wife who competes in roller derby. Girls can certainly be aggressive. I think it comes down to economics. More boys can make a career out of sports, while girls can’t do it as often. The money isn’t there. Girls enjoy sports, but they can’t carry it much further beyond college.

9:40 AM Chess Training and Motivation Our next presenter Lior Lapid grew up in Israel and now lives in New Mexico. He enjoys coaching chess more than playing it. “I believe in the benefits of chess.”

9:45 AM Chess dropouts. It’s a beautiful game. Why do we lose the kids as they get older? Fact is chess can benefit all ages. Anecdotal, but “I’ve never met a chess player with Alzheimer’s.”

9:50 AM This presenter has a lot of personality and enthusiasm. He’s nice to listen to.

Chess is not “cool” enough, but we could emphasize teenage status symbols such as letterman jackets, or bring more girls into the game, or play more speed chess/bughouse.

Meno’s Paradox: How will you inquire into a thing when you are wholly ignorant of what it is? Socrates’ answer: We learn through recollection. Theory: This information is stored within us. (Or as I often say to my Creative Writing students: “The entirety of the human experience is contained within you.”) Lapid says we should really stress the Socratic method in teaching chess. Children are capable of more than we give them credit for.

9:55 AM Lapid references the Chase and Simon study, regarding pattern recognition. Grandmasters are much better at remembering piece positions in “normal chess games.” However, in a non-standard chess position, their memory of the position is no better than anyone else's.

Lapid likes bughouse, but with place-mate and no capturing kings. He also mentions Swedish Chess, which I’ve never heard of before.

Put positions on a card, and place them in a hat, they must draw the cards and solve.

10:00 AM Verbal thinking: thinking in words versus calculations of variations. Do we think in words? I think so. We need to enforce constant articulation of thoughts and encourage debate. Students who do this are better at internalizing the knowledge.

Have the students name their own openings. The openings may be crappy, but who cares? You can also have the club collectively play a game against the teacher. It allows them to discuss. “Some of my moves will be good, some will be bad, you must put on your thinking cap.”

Start with the most basic and essential knowledge. Do not teach aspects of chess in isolation.

Regarding openings, teach a wide variety of openings. If they stick to one opening, they won’t learn the diverse patterns found in a chess game. (Probably good advice for me too.)

10:05 AM With middle games, you should focus on disaggregate learning. Focus on one thing at a time until mastered. Activity: Assign lawyers to defend a side in an unbalanced chess game. Mock trial. I really love this activity.

Good chess will require some solitary deliberate practice, not always fun. However, studying with others is more enjoyable. It’s good to have a facility. (Yes, it is.) To make chess fun, have a chess party.

Regarding tournaments: Unrated tournaments are fine. Some kids are better at dealing with loss, but others are completely demoralized. They leave the game. The challenge is to keep them engaged until a certain age where chess will become a lifelong pursuit.

10:10 AM Having chess heroes is a great idea, just like in sports. We need to lionize our top players.

Chess is an art, and it needs to be taught as an art. Be creative.

There is a lot of humor in chess, a rich history. You should immerse yourself in chess humor. Koltanowski: Mate in one, castling vertically.

11:00 AM Chess as an Integral Part of School Culture -- Took a short snack break and now we’re back. Eric Henderson and Fernando Moreno are the presenters. Their school has a high poverty rate and mobility rate (students move in and out).

11:05 AM We watched a slide show with photos of their program. There’s quiet music playing on the slide show, which I can barely hear, but it sounds relaxing.

An interesting component of their chess program is that they use in chess with the counseling program.

In New York City, their grants have focused on interscholastic chess competition. In the Maryland model, they used their chess as a component of No Child Left Behind, more internal. “I’m not sure you could actually do both. It would take more resources.”

11:10 AM Fernando asks for a volunteer rated above 2000. He asked her to play a game with him, but gives her a list of the moves she has to make. “Not fair,” she says. “Ah. Life is not fair.” Our presenter wins. His point: Everything in life can be used for your own advantage.

“I’m a school counselor. I talk about feelings? Wrong.” He uses chess puzzles and examples in his counseling. The chess pieces are employed as a metaphor for life situations or the skills we have. The chess discussion produces meaningful interactions.

11:15 AM “A simple chess position can teach anything to a kid.” It allows kids to take responsibility for their own decisions.

11:20 AM He gave several other chess/conflict resolution examples. All very interesting. Each lesson matched counseling and guidance objectives. Pawn in your face? Walk past and advance.

Many counselors use puppets and other tangible examples. First Fernando has to teach the students chess so that the pawn life lesson works.

11:25 AM He offered a personal example of a kid who stole a chess clock. Fernando went to his house to ask for the clock. Next day, they talked about it. He used Legal's Mate as an example. It’s a great opportunity (taking the queen) that blows up in your face with mate.

11:30 AM To further study these counseling techniques, the school would need more research money, which he doesn’t have. He has a book and is willing to share his personal findings with anyone.

11:35 AM Boy Scout Merit Badge, Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis -- Alexey Root cracked the whip to stay on time. Alex Vergilesov shares about his experience of immigrating to the United States and learning the language.

11:40 AM He works for the CCSCSL as scholastics coordinator, and talked about the merit badge opening event (which I attended). He encouraged everyone to become a merit badge counselor so we can help more Boy Scouts learn chess. One of my Martin Chess Club students is a Boy Scout and wants to get this badge. I’m going to help him.

11:45 AM There are 4.5 million Boy Scouts. That’s a lot of potential kids who could play chess.

It’s easy to register as a counselor online, two forms to complete that includes a criminal background check. Click here for more information.

11:50 AM CCSCSL is a membership-based chess club and a 501c3 that offers weekly lessons and tournaments. They work closely with area schools to promote chess. They distribute information to parents, administrators, and teachers to generate interest, host an “adopt-a-school” program. He doesn’t necessarily look for teachers with a chess background but needs people with education experience. The instructional program is activity-based, hands on.

11:55 AM The program has grown with over 900 students involved. 80% retention rate. “It takes at least six hours to be tournament ready.”

12:00 PM Claire Grothe stepped forward to talk about World Chess Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame opened in Saint Louis on September 9, 2011. (Once again, I was there.) She shared the mission statement, which has evolved since its move. The Hall of Fame wants to reach a broader audience of people who would attend museums. It has a rotation of exhibits on the first and second floors.

12:05 PM She shared a photo of the Yoko Ono chess set, which was my favorite piece on the first floor, along with other art pieces.

12:10 PM Working in collaboration with CCSCSL allows field trips and other visits to be more holistic. They also worked with HBO, Saint Louis Art Museum, the symphony, and Saint Louis University among other organizations.

Claire apparently timed her presentation perfectly. Well done, brave presenter. Like them on Facebook, follow on Twitter, etc.

12:15 PM Lunch break. I need to walk back to my parking spot on the other side of the highway. I’m getting exercise.

2:05 PM I’m back from lunch. I ate at Chipotle. I was running a tad late, because I also stopped by the World Beer Company to purchase a 64 oz growler, and I had to make the walk from my secret free parking spot.

Our Move: Using Chess to Improve Math Achievement for Students Who Receive Special Education Services -- There’s a packet. I always like when they have a packet.

2:10 PM Starts with a video about his school’s math program. “Using an old game in a new way.” The presenter David Barrett joked about how one student in the video didn’t use the touch rule. Barrett also had some flashcards and other learning items available for us to check out.

2:15 PM Barrett discovered his resource students had done just as well as the gifted/talented students. “The kids who learn differently are the ones who are marginalized.” It gets worse as they get older. The achievement gap increases with each year. These struggling students have trouble in a traditional classroom. They don’t have the skills and strategies to learn effectively. So much of the gaps are in areas that “scream chess.”

2:20 PM Barrett’s study built off another study that dealt with transfer. High road = specialized cognitive skills that don’t transfer, versus low road = skills transfer, i.e. driving a car, you can drive other cards and not just yours.

Barrett looked at students in resource math classes, middle school. He’s talking more about his sample group, but I missed some of the details. I’m sure I’ll get more about the study when they send out the conference pdf.

2:25 PM He evaluated course grades and TAKS scores. The participants ended up being 31 students -- sixteen on the comparison campus and fifteen on the treatment campus. More numbers are flying by on the power point.

2:30 PM These kind of studies can always be tricky, because it’s difficult to control other facts such as social issues, economic background, and what’s happening in the classroom beyond the chess intervention. The test he issued also didn’t have many items per tested objective. And it was a small sample of participants.

Things to consider: the loss of regular mathematics lessons could, at the very least, be compensated by the chess lessons. This isn’t a causal study. It would be difficult to presume the cause of results where students improved in certain areas.

“Educators need to make research-based decisions.” We can’t say emphatically that this proves the benefits of chess. However, it opens the door to further study especially in the area of students with learning disabilities.

2:35 PM Barrett ended with another video. “There’s a lot of distractions on the chess board itself.” Helps students to learn to focus.

From Q&A: With economically disadvantaged students, chess is a level playing field.

2:40 PM Now Tim Redman is cracking the whip to bring on the next presenter.

Magnificent Seven: The Power of Narrative in Chess -- The presenter is Selby Anderson, editor of Texas Knights. Narratives are powerful tools. The Magnificent Seven is a good analogy for developing the seven pieces (minus the king). The pawns are the villagers. The term “pawn” literally comes from the word “farmer.”

2:45 PM Rather than throwing your famers into the battle, you want your “magnificent seven” to fight.

We use narratives all the time in chess. For en passant, it’s especially helpful because it’s such an odd concept. He gives an example of where the new rule was needed to keep things fair. In that historical context, en passant makes sense.

Narratives about the origin of chess are exciting. “It’s your foot in the door to humanize chess.”

2:50 PM Redman and Anderson discussed the origin of the empower queen in chess. Fascinating exchange. One leading theory is that the queen was empowered to speed up the game and compete with the popularity of card games.

2:55 PM All this talk about the Magnificent Seven makes me want to go home, open my growler, and watch the Seven Samurai. That has nothing to do with chess. It just sounds nice.

3:00 PM From Q&A time: We need to move away from the “genius myth,” i.e., that chess is exclusively for geniuses, because it pushes away teachers who are intimidated by the game and students who worried they will be made to look dumb. We should emphasize the social aspects as well. Redman: “This genius myth really hurts us.” Anderson, talking about his students: “Chess is not really about deep thought. You just need to pay attention.”

3:05 PM Anderson mentions about a five-year-old autistic girl who was finding amazing chess tactics at a camp.

Coming up next will be a plenary session. However, I’m calling it a day.