by Leyno Krow
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Although board games are often a staple of elementary school classrooms, they are rarely a part of the curriculum. But for students at Rosa Parks Elementary in Redmond and Phantom Lake and Medina elementary schools in Bellevue, one board game in particular has recently taken a place at the blackboard alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.
The game is chess, and according to Wendi Fischer of Redmond, students who play regularly are likely to grasp concepts in math more quickly and perform better on standardized tests.
“While chess won’t be on any standardized test, it teaches problem solving and reasoning skills, and those things are tested,” said Fischer, who is vice president of Kirkland-based America’s Foundation for Chess.
“Plus it teaches patience and good sportsmanship, so we feel that chess definitely has a place in the classroom.”
To get chess into schools, America’s Foundation for Chess has developed a curriculum that highlights the game’s academic components. The program is called First Move and it is designed for use in second and third grade classes.
“It’s a good age group for a couple of reasons,” Fischer said. “They’re really starting to develop high-level thinking skills and chess is helpful in that regard. Also, kids at that age still like to be smart. Chess has a ‘brainyness’ associated with it, so that works in our favor.”
Schools that take part in First Move receive workbooks, an instructional DVD, classroom chess sets and a 2-D chess board to hang on a wall or blackboard for demonstrations. Each child in participating classrooms also receives their own chess set to take home so they can play with friends and family in their free time.
Fischer, a graduate of Bellevue Community College’s video production program, is both the creator and the star of First Move’s DVD component. She said that when she visits elementary schools, she is often greeted by excited students as “the Chess Lady.”
BCC’s video department assisted in the production of the First Move DVD.
Schools typically devote about one hour of class time a week to First Move.
Jeff Newport, principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, began using First Move in his school last fall.
“The thing that I’ve found is that there are a lot of skills kids pick up through playing chess that help them become better learners,” Newport said. “There’s a lot of carryover between the chess curriculum and our math curriculum.”
First Move is currently being used by more than 100 schools in 14 states.
According to Fischer, the curriculum is extremely user-friendly, allowing teachers who don’t know how to play chess themselves to learn alongside their students.
“Some of our teachers who are the most fearful in the beginning quickly become our biggest supporters,” Fischer said. “If your kids are excited about something, you can’t help but be excited about it too.”
Jackie Lysons, a second-grade teacher at Phantom Lake Elementary, claims she knew little about chess before her school adopted First Move.
“At this point, my kids are better players than I am,” Lysons said.
According to Lysons, her students enjoy the game aspect of chess but are also genuinely intrigued by the strategy and reasoning elements of the curriculum.
“The thing they get most out of it is that thinking helps,” Lysons said. “That seems simple, but it can be kind of an ‘ah-ha!’ to 8-year-olds.”
Leyna Krow can be reached at leyna.
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