16 Feb

Checkmate, Math

Updated: 02.08.10
For second and third graders stressing over their introduction to long multiplicationand division, First Move may be an answer to their math problems.

Utilizing the game of chess as a learning tool for understanding math in young students, America’s Foundation for Chess, a non-profit organization, developed First Move and the program is scheduled to be implemented in the Pasadena Independent School District.

The district is in the process of accumulating corporate sponsors which would make First Move part of the school curriculum.

“It develops critical thinking at a young age,” said Karen Hickman, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction (pre-K through grade six) for Pasadena ISD.

Through the program, each student will be given a miniature chess set to take home and classes will be equipped with several chess sets for practice in addition to receiving First Move instruction one hour per week. Parents will also be provided with literature to participate in First Move at home with their children.

Hickman, who had been in the market for a program like First Move, was contacted by Laura Bang-Knudsen, the director of America’s Foundation for Chess, which is in its 10th year and is utilized in 27 states and three countries.

Hickman received an enthusiastic response from at least 25 schools in the district with price tag of $650 per classroom, but knew that funding was going to be an obstacle.

To Bang-Knudsen, Pasadena presented a unique case and she believed that the needs outweighed the resources or circumstances.

“Karen explained the funding situation in Pasadena ISD and I told that if she wanted the program, I would find her the money,” Bang-Knudsen said. “I have never done that with another district anywhere and it’s normally not the way we do it. Karen was very direct and didn’t pull any punches and I appreciate that because she has the children’s needs at heart. I just took it on as a personal cause.”

Bang-Knudsen promised that if the district wanted the 218 classrooms to have First Move, she would actively find sponsors and Blue Bell Creamery was the first to step up.

Already, America’s Foundation for Chess has ordered the needed chess sets and instructional DVDs and expects to implement begin training teachers in the summer and First Move will be ready for Pasadena ISD by fall 2010.

Hickman, a former principal at Matthys Elementary in PISD, has seen the results using chess as a math tool first-hand. Her step-father, Denny Delafield, was a long-time educator in Pasadena in administration and in the classroom.

He was also a chess aficionado, belonging to national chess clubs.

“I have seen chess work from my own viewpoint,” she said. “That was one his trademarks and he really did a lot of neat things with chess in the classroom. He just had phenomenal results with these kids who participated heavily in chess. At Matthys, we had always had a chess club and again, the results were great.”

With test scores throughout the district, state and nation signaling a problem area in mathematics, First Move would be a logical move for the district, Hickman said.

“They (test scores) show that we are lacking in critical thinking,” she said. “Chess is a natural fit to develop that in a non-testing, high-stakes.”

Pasadena also ranks third from the bottom in state-funding, something that struck a chord for Bang-Knudsen.

“I grew up poor and school saved me, so this is personal for me,” she said. “I take a real interest in schools that service large populations of reduced lunch programs and this is the only time I looked at an assistant superintendent and said, ‘I’ll find you the money.’ I will just go down the list and call and find them the money.”

At an age when one plus one multiplies into mystifying territory for some students, First Move can make the leap into advanced math an easier transition.

“It’s about getting your brain to work in a logical manner and practicing that is very important,” said Hickman. “Some students just haven’t worked that part of their brain as much. Starting that in the second grade, we think we have the potential of really helping some kids.”

At South Houston Elementary, CASE (Cooperative for Afterschool Enrichment) coordinator Alma Quiroga can see the correlation between her chess club students and their math performance.

“It helps with their thinking, problem-solving and I see it make a difference in their work,” she said.

What the game of chess brings to the table, said Bang-Knudsen, is empowering young minds.

“Chess is about kings and queens and battles and what kid doesn’t like kings, queens and battle? Little kids do not have that preconceived notion that they can’t learn something – they just love it,” she said. “When you move that chess piece, it causes the other person on the other side of the table to have a reaction and the results are very tangible. When you can get a kid believing they are smart, that’s a great thing.”

Additional sponsors are welcome and to find more information on First Move, call 1-866-973-AF4C or visitwww.af4c.org.


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