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Ho Math Chess Research and Articles > Chess in the Math Curriculum

11 Oct 2006

Chess in the Math Curriculum

One of the most important educational goals is to teach children to think critically, to make judgements. Chess helps them do that during a game a player, must formulate a plan of attack or defense.

A player has to reflect on the problem to be solved which means he/she searches a database, their brain, for previous knowledge. Then they have to systematically check all the combinations of moves and decide on the best course of action. This is a mental exercise we all try to give our kids, teachers and parents it's critical thinking that can be used in other areas of a kid's life, academics and social situations.

Mathematicians have estimated that there are approximately 10 to the power of 50 of possible unique games of chess playable. Repetition is virtually impossible once a player reaches a certain level. Are there links between mathematics and chess? Chess players are often considered mathematically oriented and there are obvious similarities as chess is a game of problem solving, evaluation, critical thinking, intuition and planning much like the study of mathematics. Studies have shown that students playing chess have increased problem solving skills over their peers. Research suggests that while students playing chess learn concepts through physical and visual stimuli and correlate these concepts to cognitive patterns, mathematics in the classroom usually involves only pure symbolic manipulation. Thus there seems to be some evidence to suggest that chess acts as a sort of link in connecting form (symbolic) with understanding (physical and visual).

In the early 80's Faneuil Adams became president of the American Chess Foundation (ACF). Adams was convinced that chess was an excellent learning tool for the adolescent, especially the disadvantaged. The ACF embarked on the Chess in Schools Program which focused on New York's Harlem School district. Initially the program was focused on improving math skills for adolescents through improved critical thinking and problem solving skills. This was achieved as "test scores improved by 17.3% for students regularly engaged in chess classes, compared with only 4.56% for children participating in other forms of enriched activities."

Also noted was that many students' social habits improved when playing chess. The game allows for students of dissimilar backgrounds to integrate with others. Many disadvantaged or special education students are becoming actively involved in chess programs as the value of chess as a social tool is further explored.

Jerome Fishman, Guidance Counselor, Queens, NY says: "I like the aspect of socialization. You get into a friendly, competitive activity where no one gets hurt. Instead of two bodies slamming into each other like football, you have the meeting of two minds. Aside from developing cognitive skills, chess develops their social skills. It makes them feel they belong. Whenever we get a child transferred from another school who may have maladaptive behavior, we suggest chess as a way of helping him find his niche. The kids become better friends when after the game they analyze possible combinations ... we have kids literally lining up in front of the school at 6:45am to get a little chess in before class."

Principal Jo Bruno , Brooklyn, NY : "In chess tournaments the child gets the opportunity of seeing more variety and diversity. There are kids who have more money than they have, but chess is a common denominator. They are all equal on the chessboard. I believe it is connected academically and to the intellectual development of children. I see the kids able to attend to something for more than an hour and a half. I am stunned. Some of them could not attend to things for more than 20 minutes." Bruno brings up the important point that chess can focus kids into concentrating on a task for long periods of time. Why is this? Many adolescents find chess fun and exciting.

Where is chess education headed? In the United States a major scholastic effort is underway to incorporate chess into the elementary school setting by the USCF, the US Chess Trust, the AFC and thousands of teachers and volunteers. The USCF scholastic magazine School Mates has over 20,000 copies in circulation each month. Rosalyn Katz of New Jersey spearheaded a movement for scholastic chess volunteers to change the legislation for teaching chess in schools in the state of New Jersey. Katz managed to pass to bills in senate

The Province of Quebec also has programs in place where schools teach chess at the elementary level. Instructors are often professional chess players hired by the school board to teach part-time during the week. British Columbia has no official legislation regarding chess as an active learning tool but it's only a matter of time until a comprehensive uniform stance is taken by the province on chess in the classroom. At present chess is taught at few schools in Vancouver, mostly under volunteer supervision. Lynn Stringer has been instrumental in setting up chess programs in many Vancouver Island schools. Greg Churchill began teaching classes in Victoria schools last year. As pressure grows from parents interested in better educational programs it seems inevitable that chess programs will be introduced province-wide in the near future. This will result in a greater demand for qualified people with the necessary skills to teach chess.

In a Texas study, regular (non-honours) elementary students who participated in a school chess club showed twice the improvement of non-chessplayers in Reading and Mathematics between third and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

A New Brunswick study, using 437 fifth graders split into three groups, experimenting with the addition of chess to the math curriculum, found increased gains in math problem-solving and comprehension proportionate to the amount of chess in the curriculum.

In a Zaire study conducted by Dr. Albert Frank, employing 92 students, age 16-18, the chess-playing experimental group showed a significant advancement in spatial, numerical and administrative-directional abilities, along with verbal aptitudes, compared to the control group. The improvements held true regardless of the final chess skill level attained.

In a Belgium study a chess-playing experimental group of fifth graders experienced a statistically significant gain in cognitive development over a control group. Perhaps more noteworthy, they also did significantly better in their regular school testing, as well as in standardized testing administered by an outside agency which did not know the identity of the two groups. Quoting Dr. Adriaan de Groot: "In addition, the Belgium study appears to demonstrate that the treatment of the elementary, clearcut and playful subject matter can have a positive effect on motivation and school achievement generally..."

A four-year USA study, though not deemed statistically stable due to a small (15 students) experimental group, has the chess-playing experimental group consistently outperforming the control groups engaged in other thinking development programs, using measurements from the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking.

The Venezuela "Learning to Think Project", which trained 100,000 teachers to teach thinking skills, and which involved a sample of 4,266 second grade students, reached a general conclusion that chess, methodologically taught, is an incentive system suffficient to accelerate the increase of IQ in elementary age children of both sexes at all socio-economic levels.

A study using a sub-set of the New York City Schools Chess Program produced statistically significant results concluding that chess participation enhances reading performance. A related study, conducted in five U.S. cities over two years, selected two classrooms in each of five schools. The group receiving instruction in chess and logic obtained significantly higher reading scores than the control groups, which received additional classroom instruction in basic education (reading, math or social studies).


Chess is found as required curricula in nearly 30 countries.

In Vancouver B.C. the Math and Chess Learning Center, recognizing the correlation between chess playing and math skills development, has developed a series of workbooks to assist (Canadian) students in math.

The mathematics curriculum in New Brunswick is using a text series called "Challenging Mathematics" which uses chess to teach logic from grades 2 to 7. Using this curriculum, the average problem-solving score of pupils in the province increased from 62% to 81%. The Province of Quebec, where the program was first introduced, has the best math marks in Canada and Canada scores better than the U.S.A. on international mathematics exams.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell encourages knowledge of chess as a way to develop a preschooler's intellect and academic readiness.

The State of New Jersey passed a bill legitimizing chess as a unit of instruction within the elementary school curriculum. A quote from the bill states "In countries where chess is offered widely in schools, students exhibit excellence in the ability to recognize complex patterns and consequently excel in math and science..."

And remember, in these days of shrinking budgets and tight-fisted provincial politicians chess is low-tech and relatively low-cost!

Much of this was taken from http://ourworld.cs.com/kaech5/benefits.html and other websites. I have cross-referenced the studies before -- especially the Canadian ones -- all of this can be backed up. The US Chess Federation actually has a lot of studies you can buy copies of at a low price.

- Jude Isabella, Editor of YesMag, Canada's Science magazine for kids. 

Jude Isabella, Editor of YesMag, Canada's Science magazine for kids.


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