I’m attending the 2nd Koltanowski Conference on Chess and Education. I was going to live blog the event. However, since I can't find an open Wi-Fi connection, I’m doing a pseudo-live blog. I’m typing it now and will upload it once I get home (UPDATE: I'm home). It's a two day event. Maybe tomorrow you'll get a more authentic "live blog" experience, if I can find a Wi-Fi signal. I'm sure Hilton Anatole has available Internet. But like everything else, they will probably charge $1 for every minute you use it. I'm still a little bitter because I paid $16 to park there for three hours. Next conference, can we meet at the Howard Johnson?
Here we go:
9:30 AM Brooklyn Castle -- This session is about the Brooklyn Castle documentary, which has been three years in the making. The documentary was inspired by KINGS OF NEW YORK, written by Michael Weinreb, which I recently read. Instead of focusing on the Murrow school, they decided to film the P.S. 318 School with all their triumphs and struggles. (P.S. 318 acts as a feeder school for Murrow.) We just watched the trailer, and yes, I got a little teary eyed. P.S. 318 partnered with the Chess-In-The-Schools organization. It’s exciting to hear how the whole community rallied around their chess program.
9:45 AM Elizabeth Vicary is a full-time chess teacher at their school. She gets to work with the students every day. Since there’s no set mandated curriculum, she has more flexibility. The kids stay motivated because students see the direct results of their learning in the weekend tournaments. They also get very competitive with each other, and that challenges them to work harder. Banners, trophies, announcements in the school, all support and encourage the students since they see how the school values them.
9:50 AM The opportunity for travel also acts as incentive. P.S. 318 is a title one school, so many of them have never been outside of Brooklyn before. However, because of their financial situation, the kids don’t tend to be involved in 50 others things. When they get an opportunity, such as this chess program, they stick with it.
9:55 AM In contrast to all the negative press about schools, this documentary is about what’s right in public schools. One DISD employee asked the presenter about Elizabeth’s full time paid status. However, it wasn’t really a question. I think she was just envious of a paid position.
10 A.M. Advances in Cognitive and Neurosciences: Impact on Educational Chess -- The topic title of this session is a little intimidating when contrasted with the more heart-warming Brooklyn Castle presentation. Lipschultz argues that chess is not more pervasive in schools because we haven’t done enough research into the cognitive benefits of chess. Need more science to support claims. Right now, much of the support is anecdotal.
"Executive Functions" in cognitive thinking consist of control and the ability to regulate behaviors, specifically goal-directed behavior and to adapt to situations. Such abilities include flexibility, inhibition, working memory, problem solving, reasoning, planning.
How important are these executive functions? More important for school readiness than is IQ. (Boom, take that IQ!) Also, it’s a major determiner for success in life.
10:10 AM New Zealand study showed that kids with low self control were vastly more likely to have poor health and more likely to have a criminal record later in life. Self control: impulsivity, conscientiousness, self-regulation, delay of gratifications, and other things... but the power point moved too quickly, and I couldn’t type it all. I need to work on my note taking skills.
Cognitive problems in low-SES (socio-economic standing): deficient factual knowledge and cognitive development, decreased ability to learn. The brain is a very plastic organ. It shapes according to its environment. Possibly related to genetics, parenting, stress, nutrition, etc.
10:15 AM Now Lipschultz is talking about Marx, Webber, Lewis, and animal lab studies. Basically, it stinks to be poor. Language skills are always the most significantly effected. All effects become more pronounced as the kids get older.
Someone next to me keeps mumbling “mmm,” “uh-huh” as if she completely gets these charts and neuroscience graphs. I’m getting the general gist, but nothing more than “lines go up” is good, “lines go down” is bad.
10:20 AM Interesting study about how middle-class students are better at filtering out unnecessary and inaccurate stimuli. All interesting, but how does this relate to chess?
There is support that we can reverse cognitive damage done by poverty. We can train the brain, skills transfer. Chess skills transfer to other skills. It might, but it hasn’t been proven yet. Aerobic exercise robustly improve executive functions, especially martial arts and mindfulness training more than other P.E. activities. A traditional martial arts group that focused on mindfulness had better results. Modern martial arts that focused on competition actually had worse results.
10:25 AM What about chess? Interventions can improve executive functions, but there is no perspective data available. Grandmasters are no smarter than other people, average cognitive skills, and normal memory for other matters. Grandmasters do not consider more moves. Instead, they see the best moves faster. In other words, becoming a master in one field makes you a master in one field. We have to be careful when we boast the effects of chess. Training in one skill does take away from time spent in other fields.
10:30 AM Low SES kids will take to chess just as easily as middle class, more than in other cognitive fields. There is no disparity. It should aid low SES students in their executive functions. Although, it hasn’t been proven... yet. “Yet” is the official word of this presentation.
10:35 AM You have to increase the level of difficulty and need more time to enforce the skills regularly -- a chess club meeting once a week will not do it. If we can target their self-control impulses, it will directly benefit them in life, more than just teaching them math.
A key component is the student’s willingness to devote time to the activity. Programs need to include stress reduction techniques.
Implementing “chess education” from a niche activity to a standard activity; many programs fall short. And it's about the process, not the outcome. They need ample practice time, mentoring (works very, very well). Tournaments should not be the best model to center everything around. They may need to be a better model for competition.
10:40 AM Break! I had a chance to sneak over to chess store and drool over the sets, boards, and books.
11:05 AM Chess Clubs -- I'm in another Lipschultz session. Smart guy. He shares a little bit of his life. In the post-Searching for Bobby Fischer era, the PTA enlisted him to start the chess club. He was overwhelmed by the turnout, and looked for software tools to help him. There was a paucity of programs, so he decided to write his own. Several years later, he’s still working on the Think Like a King software system. Uh-oh. I’m worried I may have stepped into an infomercial. Fear not. There’s stuff to learn. He’s developed a program called Major League Chess, which he referred to as a game changer. The phrase “game changer” is so last year.
11:10 AM His program works to manage chess clubs and transitions students from chess as an activity to chess as a sport and a productive educational tool. How much chess should they learn to get the benefits? Enough chess to be a master is not necessary. They should possess basic knowledge and be able to apply that knowledge to a real chess game in a thoughtful fashion, consistently.
Chess books in the middle school require a great deal of commitment. Computer-learning on the other hand is a much better technique. Think Like A King was the first program of its kind, according to Lipschultz. It has various “drill and kill” activities to teach basic concepts of chess.
11:15 AM He wants to move students from random players to focused thinkers. The amount of text is limited, but the reading level is high to challenge them. “Teaching chess will not teach them to read. Teaching them how to read while teaching chess will teach them how to read.” The chess program offers immediate rewards (points) and feedback.
11:20 AM “Teaching chess is a precise activity.” Thus, you must not just teach chess. It’s the process, not the subject. Actually, this session isn’t too bad because it feels like a follow up and nature progression from the previous session. Yes, clearly, he wants to sell the program, but it’s also the natural praxis and the theory presented before.
The students learn how to integrate knowledge with the activity.
11:25 AM My mind is wandering now. I’m thinking about the chess store. Do I really need another chess book? I should probably finish one at home first and then reward myself with a new book. Stay away, David. Save money. Where should I go for lunch? I’m near Oak Lawn and Lemon. I should visit Zeus Comics and then grab lunch. The conference organizers gave us a really long lunch break. As a teacher, I normally make a mad dash to 7-11 before getting back in time. Maybe Eatzi’s?
11:30 AM Illinois Chess Association reviewed all the major testing tools and said very nice things about Think Like a King.
The club manager aspect of the program can be assigned to a responsible kid. You build a roster. It will track wins and loses within club games, creates a club rating system. Students take it much more seriously when there’s a score attached. However, you shouldn’t overdo the competition. Instead, think in terms of reward and motivation. Through the program, you can print certificates and other performance rewards. Beyond certificates, students can also earn “thinking belts,” similar to belts in karate, based on their progress in the computer program. Since other kids can see their peers’ improvement, it offers group motivation.
11:35 AM And we’re back to the infomercial. It seems great, but I was hoping for more about how to build a chess club, and not simply how to use their software. Oh well.
11:40 AM Regarding Major League Chess, it's an alternative to OTB tournaments, redirecting the competition to online tournaments.
11:45 PM Update on the presentation: They lost a presenter, but Jerry Nash will step in to discuss more about scholastic club chess. Wow. It’s like the read my pseudo-live blog from 11:35. Spyware?
Lipschutlz continues to stress the de-stressing of OTB tournaments, which may not be for everyone. I can’t decide how I feel about this. Kids need to experience successes and setbacks. I think it’s healthy, and yet tournaments can be the biggest logistical problem for organizers.
Major League Chess can also be used for home schools and adult clubs. On his power point, he forgot a period at the end of the sentence “You are in control.” Sorry. I notice these things.
11:50 AM Think Like a King has a free light version. It’s also in a free beta-mode until January. There will be an annual subscription starting next year, assigned a school ID number.
11:55 AM When an older adult says “web browser” and clearly emphasizes each syllable, it makes the adult seems even older. “You will open your... web browser...” It’s as if the concept needs to be given a second to fully embrace. Oh. A web browser. Fascinating. OK, now, I’m just getting snarky. Eatzi’s sounds good.
12:00 PM Jerry Nash takes the stage. He began his chess club as part of a grant that was awarded to a district. “Many scholastic chess programs may be just one person away from extinction.” That’s a pleasant start (note sarcasm), but true. If I weren’t at Martin High School, I wonder if the club would still survive. I’m also helping at Swift Elementary and through Chess Club of Arlington’s kids program. We clearly have a leadership shortage.
12:05 PM Clubs need the support of all the different groups within a community. It starts as a grassroots effort, but becomes more difficult as you attempt to move it forward and try new things. If it wasn’t mentioned at a national middle school or high school conference, then it doesn’t exist. Chess needs credibility at the top levels.
12:10 PM Teachers and chess club sponsors need to be able to explain what they do in a way that meets the criteria school decision-makers are familiar with. We have to make the case.
12:15 PM Jerry Nash: “One of the ways you can help me to find a way to help you...” I just had a Jerry Maguire flashback. “Help me help you!” Jerry Nash is a USCF spokesperson, and his presence is heard even if he’s saying the exact same thing that the teacher is already saying.
One participant asked about funding. It was cool to see other people immediately sound off on options for her club. US Chess Trust offers five free sets to any school that asks.
12:20 PM Lunch!
1:52 PM Returned from Eatzi’s. I had salmon and mixed vegetables. I also stopped by Zeus Comics to see Barry and Kelly. Both awesome folks.
2:00 PM Differentiated Curriculum -- Leah Martin-Dagher came to chess as a “chess parent.” She saw the value of it in her own children. They were working in a charter school. She was excited about having one hour, once a week, and they didn’t nearly have enough equipment. However, the program caught on. Students wanted the pieces and to interact over the board.
2:05 PM One hour a week of chess enabled her principal to show off the program to parents visiting the school. The obstacle has always been traditional curriculum established by politicians. How do we integrate chess into the classroom “legally”?
2:10 PM Teachers can use chess as a bridge to students with gaps, dyslexic students and students with dysgraphia, e.g., solving problems through a reverse situation. They break the problem down into understandable segments.
The students naturally gravitate to the chessboard. (I can attest to this. I have trouble keeping my students away from it.) However, teachers must work with the kids at the board and not simply allow the kids to go “free range” with it. Schools have chess sets, but the teachers don’t always want to mess with it.
2:15 PM Every presenter, so far, has confessed to not being a great chess player. In other words: “I’m just like you. I stink at this game. I’m not part of that chess elite.”
It’s a quiet group after lunch.
Other countries, such as those in Europe, have routinely included chess in the schools.
“Chess has adapted to technology as well as any activity or sport. However, the early stages need to be facilitated by a teacher or mentor.” You can’t simply sit the kids in front of the computer, but the technology does allow greater interaction.
2:20 PM The presenter specifically tutors children on TAKS skills. She believes all of these kids would benefit from chess instruction. She has said that chess can offer differentiated instruction, but I’m missing the specific examples and application.
Question and answer time: Apparently, she has a website with helpful lessons and applications. (See? Once again, I’m wondering if the powers-that-be are following my pseudo-live blogging.)
2:25 PM An attendee congratulates the presenter on de-emphasizing tournament chess. And another attendee adds his two cents. (People aren’t really asking questions. It’s more an open share-fest.) Struggle: “It’s not about the grade. It’s about the learning.” That’s a challenge. We need to think about intrinsic motivation for work and learning.
2:35 PM Our second presenter of this session handed out a booklet titled “This chess atmosphere supports the you touch it... you move it... rule!” Are the ellipses really necessary, especially the second one? Sorry for noticing.
2:40 PM Her focus will be on how does chess connect to life-long learning and social skills. She’s throwing a lot of the benefits onto the power point, but it’s a lot of stuff we’ve gone over already: planning ahead, time management, flexibility, critical thinking. We’re familiar with the benefits. After flipping through her booklet though, I saw some interesting material I might use next week at Swift Elementary with Kennedy’s chess club. Score.
“Learning how to win with dignity and lose with grace.” It’s a good life lesson. Chess also allows for follow up. Students will start discussing their games and what they could’ve done differently. As teachers, we don’t always do enough follow up. Chess is well-suited for follow up.
2:45 PM “If you have follow up with that kid, you have self improvement with that kid.” Very true. How does chess foster creativity? (Study by Robert Ferguson, 1979-1982) There’s a substantial increase in creativity.
Emotional development. There are certain kids who no one wants to play with because they are obnoxious, but they ultimately get included. “Seeing outcomes based on input. What I put in is what I get out.” When you are accountable, you are open to change. Presenter gave an example of a student who lost a game, but was elated because he was able to use algebraic notation throughout.
2:50 PM There is a “chess language” among the students, which is a combination of encouragement and teaching.
Chess enhances social skills. In particular, we emphasize the value of a good handshake. The skittles (casual chess) room offers a social environment after the tournament game. Chess players learn very quickly that throwing the board is not cool.
2:55 PM Chess provides a place for teenagers to belong. At the tournament level, it also integrates different cultures. It doesn’t matter what age, race, or religion you play against. The presenter references a report on okschess.org.
3:00 PM She references the “Scholastic Chess Pyramid of Success” in her packet. Students in golf and gymnastics have personal trainers. It’s not hard to believe that chess kids need personal training too.
I like the “Is your child tournament ready?” quiz on page seven. One of the questions: Can your child lose three chess games in a row without crying? Honestly, I don’t think I’m able to lose three chess games in a row without crying.
Tricia Dobson’s packet might be the most useful part of the conference today.
Playing against a 1600? “Hold onto your queen and a draw looks really good right now.”
3:05 PM The room is really cold. And I’m wearing a jacket.
3:10 PM We’re all talking about the problem of “trash talking” among young chess players. Everybody has something to add. I had my hand up, and I got blocked by someone next to me. Dude, I want to talk too. Not cool. He’s been talking for 5 minutes now. Get your own session.
3:15 PM I got a chance to talk. Feel better now. It’s interesting that this particular subject occupied so much time. It seems to be a real issue among younger players.
3:20 PM Done with my first day. I’m returning tomorrow.