Clearer Objectives in Scholastic Chess

International co-operation and a stronger commitment towards education is the way forward for school chess. This is the main conclusions of the fifth London Chess Conference which brought together eighty activists and researchers from 24 countries during the first week-end of the London Chess Classic, that was sponsored by Chess in Schools and Communities, the European Chess Union and benefiting from Erasmus Plus mobility grants.

Networking during a coffee break (photo: Leila Raivio)

Most attendees accepted that a distinction must be made between scholastic chess that is oriented towards school curricula and delivered by regular teachers who have been trained on chess didactics and how to integrate chess with the school curriculum from competitive school chess that is mostly an after-school activity delivered by chess tutors or teachers with the goal of finding and nurturing chess talent. It was noted that whilst most research scarcely details the method and content of chess instruction, future studies must look at precisely how chess is taught and how it is connected to the school curriculum.

Conference Director John Foley with Grandmaster Maurice Ashley who works in schools in St. Louis and New York City (photo: Leila Raivio)

Another flaw with existing research studies is in their design. One cannot prove a causal effect without having both an active and a passive control group. “Chess instruction is not a magic bullet but has a good placebo effect”, said Professor Fernand Gobet who has been warning against this flaw in the study design for fifteen years. He reckons that most studies were conducted by chess proponents who were satisfied to produce a positive result irrespective that the basic design is inadequate. Three-group-designs are standard in video games as well as on music instruction and cognitive training, which Gobet and his PhD student Giovanni Sala have systematically reviewed. Their verdict is that cognitive effects of these several types of intervention are close to zero. If anything, chess is doing slightly better, said Gobet, and encourages us not to focus only on cognitive effects: “Decide what you want to reach in scholastic chess and customise your tools!”

“Chess is not a magic bullet but has a good placebo effect”, said Fernand Gobet (photo: Lennart Ootes)

In order to move ahead, scholastic chess organisations should not only focus on their impact but also what their learn during projects. The value of formative evaluations was argued in a lecture and workshop by Jakob Rathlev from the Danish Scholastic Chess Association and Professor Brian Kisida from the University of Missouri professor who advises the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St. Louis.

Professor William Bart´s several suggestions to improve the state of research found a mixed response. While a centre for scholastic chess research would be a very useful resource, it is not likely to materialise in the near future. More practical would be the establishment of a Journal of Scholastic Chess. The consensus is to start with the creation of an international network of scholars and key activists engaged in networking and project building. The next step will be to create a map of knowledge on which to base a future research agenda. Progress on this front as well as on the CHAMPS (Chess and Mathematics in Primary Schools) Erasmus Plus project that was launched at the conference will be reported at our sixth edition during the London Chess Classic in December 2018.

Planning is underway for our sixth conference in December 2018 (photo: Leila Raivio)

High Marks on Creativity in Indian PhD Research

While our attendees from places like Brazil and Australia are currently based in the UK, Ebenezer Joseph has the longest trip to London. The veteran chess teacher and activist has taught and trained 7000 kids in Southern India. In Chennai he founded and is running the Emmanuel Chess Centre in the Russian Cultural Centre. After observing big cognitive improvements for many years he thought up a research project.

Ebenezer Joseph during a TV interview with NEWS 7 Tamil

A trip to the first London Chess Conference 2013 got him on track. Right afterwards he registered for a PhD in Coginitive Psychology in Madras University and became Principal Investigator at the Department of Science & Technology for a project funded by the Indian government to study “The Influence of Chess Learning on Comprehensive Cognitive Development of Children”

Now Ebenezer is returning with results of this study which followed 200 children, half in the experimental, half in the control group, from two government and two private schools. In one of the longest chess studies over two years
measures on intelligence, creativity and academic performance were taken, including tests like WISC IV, Binet Kamat for intelligence and Wallach Kogan for creativity as well as cognitive functions such as working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, verbal reasoning, conceptual thinking, numerical reasoning, social intelligence , creativity and language skills.

The improvements on intelligence and creativity in the experimental group that received chess instruction were highly significant. “This study could possibly be a trigger to incorporate chess in Indian schools”, writes Ebenezer. Promoting Creativity is a hot topic in Indian education policy, and his presentation in our opening session will focus on this aspect.

Conference Now Full

We have reached the maximum number of registrants for the 2017 Conference.  We thank all those who registered and we look forward to seeing you at the Hilton London Olympia at the weekend.

This is a highly professional and international event with  72 people from 24 countries. Participant statistics: 85% have experience of teaching chess in schools, 30% women, 30% British, 12 chess tutors, 8 professors, 8 international masters, 8 teachers, 6 Doctors, 5 from each of Slovakia, Spain and USA, 2 grandmasters.

We are grateful to those organisations who have made this event possible: Chess in Schools and Communities, European Chess Union, Erasmus Plus CHAMPS project.

Increasing Co-operation in Chess Research

William Bart, professor of educational psychology and director of the Thinking Lab at the University of Minnesota, is rather positive about the effects of chess on scholastic achievement. He is giving the opening keynote talk “Making School Chess Research Relevant“ (Saturday 13.15-). He writes:

Although there have been empirical studies on the educational and psychological effects of chess in schools and studies of correlates of chess competency, many questions remain unanswered. To answer such questions in a scientific manner, collaboration among scientific researchers and practitioners of scholastic chess is required.

Professor Bart proposes three courses of action:

  1. The establishment of an International Center for Chess Research (ICCR) would advance the scientific study of scholastic chess through empirical research on the effects of scholastic chess.
  2. The establishment of an International Fund for Scholastic Chess Research (IFSCR) would provide financial support to and basis for the ICRR.
  3. The establishment of a Scholastic Chess Network would promote communication among and collaboration between scientific researchers of scholastic chess and practitioners of scientific chess for the purpose of the design and implementation of scientific studies of scholastic chess.

These provisions would provide the basis for answering many questions regarding the effects of scholastic chess in a scientific manner and facilitate the scientific study of scholastic chess and the effective expansion of scholastic chess.“

William’s suggestions will be further discussed in a workshop on Sunday 9.00-10.30. Research Co-operation, the workshop´s theme, is on the rise, even though an attempt to establish a joint academic publication, the Journal of Chess Research, has failed to get off the ground so far.

The European Chess Union, which is a co-sponsor of the London Chess Conference, has recruited scientists to advise the Education Commission. The first, non-public meeting of the ECU Academic Advisory Board on Monday, 4 December, is one of many side meetings of the conference. One of the advisors is Fernand Gobet from the University of Liverpool who has cooperated with colleagues and PhD students in many chess related studies.

Scientists at the University of Girona have formed a Chess Observatory. Its director Carme Saurina Canals, a professor of statistics and econometrics at the Faculty of Economics of Girona, will share how this unique interdisciplinary group interacts.

In October the International Society for Applied Chess was formed during a conference in Bulgaria. Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, an addiction scientist at the University of Heidelberg and the German Institute of Mental Health, will present this brand new organisation with its goals and strategy. With researchers from five continents expected the workshop will boost transnational cooperation.

Debating Scholastic Chess

Scholastic Chess is the core theme of the 2017 conference and also of the six debates that we are running on Saturday afternoon 15.30-16.30. The debating format is called World Café and has been developed to share knowledge and to encourage action. Each debate is hosted by an expert who has proposed a debating question. The host keeps the discussion going and engages the participants to contribute. All six debates go on at the same time in the same big room. After thirty minutes everyone but the host will be invited to move on to a different debate. Originally we intended to have everyone switch after twenty minutes, but this may have been too hectic.

Three topics are following up on the crucial distinction between education oriented and competition oriented school chess: The Dutch chess psychologist, coach and author Karel van Delft asks what Separates Scholastic and Competitive Chess? The question put up by the London Chess Conference Programme Director Stefan Löffler is how should the Scholastic Chess Movement Organise Itself? Yonne Tangelder, a school chess coordinator at the Norwegian Chess Federation, wants to know, what is the best age for scholastic chess?

Tal Granite, chess coach and founding director of the Chess Institute of Canada, picks up experiences and insights on the Social Benefits of Scholastic Chess to supplement his lecture on the following day about Chess and the Hidden Curriculum. How can Chess Promote Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom? is the topic of Sabine Vollstädt-Klein, an addiction scientist at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and the University of Heidelberg. Jesper Hall, the Swedish chairman of the European Chess Union´s Education Commission, argues for a code of conduct in scholastic chess and in junior chess and what it may entail.

Pick the two debates that interest you most!

Making More out of Evaluations

Very few school chess projects are properly evaluated. Evaluations are often mistaken for marketing tools losing out on the potential of evaluations to provide valuable learning and insight as well as to keep projects on track to get the most out of them.

Jakob Rathlev is not only a board member and until recently chairman of the Danish Scholastic Chess Association but also division head at the Danish Institute of Evaluation where he specialises in the evaluation of education programmes. His talk is entitled “What Everyone in Scholastic Chess should Know about Evaluation” (2 December, approx 14.00). Later on the same afternoon (2 December, 16.30-18.00) there will be a workshop, in which Jakob will guide you to plan an evaluation of your current or next scholastic chess project.

Dansk Skoleskak board member and evaluation specialist Jakob Rathlev (photo: skoleskak.dk)

He will be joined by Brian Kisida, a professor in the Department of Economics and the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. Brian has conducted numerous experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of education programmes for the U.S. Department of Education and others. Brian works closely with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of their scholastic chess programming.

Maybe nobody has as much experience managing diverse scholastic chess projects as Alessandro Dominici from Italy. Alessandro will share what Erasmus Plus, educational foundations and the public sector expects from evaluations and on how to manage their monitoring tools.

The line-up of this high level workshop will be completed by Anna Harazińska, who is the school chess co-ordinator at the Polish Chess Federation. She will share what their ambitious scholastic chess project, the role-out of chess in primary schools across Poland, has learned from its pilot phase.

The Impact of the London Chess Conference

It is useful to retread the history of the conference themes. The inaugural conference on Chess and Education in 2013 uncovered a considerable number of projects that had arisen independently around the world. It became clear that many teachers, pedadogues and tutors were working in parallel on the same issues. In the previous few years there had been an upsurge of chess activity in schools not restricted to after school clubs but also within the school timetable. To need for co-ordination and leadership in the field was recognised with the creation of the Education Commission of the European Chess Union in autumn 2014.

The connection between chess and mathematics was recognised by many educationists. Such was the level of interest that the theme of the next conference was Chess and Mathematics. This brought together experts in chess, games and mathematics in 2014 for a seminal conference. The mathematicians were positive about games as a teaching tool. It cannot be ignored that chess also brought an element of fun into the classroom. We began see that teaching chess in new ways, more specifically oriented towards educational purposes, could be productive for subjects such as mathematics.

Chess is part of our social history but the social benefits of chess have often been overlooked. Our theme in 2015 was Chess and Society. Major conflicts that year caused people to flee to Europe in large numbers. We heard about how chess, which crosses language and culture barriers, was being used for refugee integration projects, with Roma communities in Eastern Europe, with excluded children, with prisoners, for children with ADHD and Aspergers, for older people and so on. People attending the conference found spirited fellow travellers with whom they could share their ideas and enthusiasm.

The quest for new methods of teaching chess for these educational purposes led to the 2016 theme of the Didactics of Chess. Finding the best way to teach chess is a considerable challenge. The Soviet Union produced a cohort of grandmasters from the 1930s. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the methods of the Soviet chess school were spread throughout the world. A highly structured training programme with focused study from a young age was the key to their success. However, this approach is unsuitable for general education where the purpose is to provide a balanced set of mental skills. Speakers at the 2016 event explained the value of teaching games in general. Other games than chess, such as go, backgammon and bridge, can also be valuable for intellectual development. One of the objectives of teaching games is for the children to become fully engaged in experience so that they achieve the full cognitive benefits. It is not necessary to play chess to a high level to obtain the benefits. This implies that we should deconstruct and isolate those elements which give rise to specific problem solving opportunities.

The theme of the 2017 Conference is Scholastic Chess. The purpose is to explore, explain, connect and co-ordinate the way in which chess is used for educational purposes in schools. The term “scholastic chess” implies the scholarly nature of the approach to chess i.e. it is chess for educational purposes. Sometimes the term is used as a shorthand to refer to chess in schools but it is necessary to distinguish between two forms of chess in schools: scholastic chess and competitive chess. The traditional approach to chess in schools has been to get the children to compete, with educational attainment being a hoped-for by-product. The modern approach is to adapt chess so that it is easier to teach and easier to learn and delivers educational benefits. Scholastic chess is taught by regular teachers rather than relying upon chess experts.

Connecting partners for co-operation in scholastic chess is one of the motivations of the London Chess Conference. We have never been particularly interested in featuring speakers who promote teaching competitive chess in schools. We strive to attract experts and educational activists who are open-minded about didactics and are prepared to learn from others and develop together. This spirit of co-operation has attracted the Education Commission of the European Chess Union to use the event as meeting venue. At this year´s Conference they have an important gathering with the recently formed Academic Advisory Board.

Grand projects have been also born at our series. The biggest Erasmus+ sponsored school chess project CASTLE (2014-2017), which has recently been successfully completed, was first presented in a side meeting at our inaugural 2013 edition. The partners of the recently approved Erasmus+ project CHAMPS (CHess And Mathematics in Primary Schools) first met together at our conferences in 2015 and 2016. Their new project will be officially launched at this year´s edition. The partners will not meet only among themselves but also with stakeholders such as the ECU Education Commission and with specially invited experts.

Co-operation was also key to a “chess in education” wiki. This was proposed by Kevin O’Connell, chair of FIDE Chess in Schools Commission. Luis Blasco de la Cruz, a school chess activist and IT professional from Madrid, is now co-ordinating the development effort. Luis will present the current state of the project and hopes to find contributors at our conference.

Our keynote speaker, Professor William Bart from the University of Minnesota will make the constructive proposal that there should be international centre for scholastic chess research to improve its quality, push its relevance and pool resources. Bringing together teachers and social scientists who study the effects of chess in education has always been a part of the London Chess Conference. The research statistician Giovanni Sala joined the psychology department under Professor Fernand Gobet at Liverpool University where he has been evaluating the impact of chess. Reinaldo Golmia Dante, an associate professor of education from Brazil, whom we connected with our conference speaker and neuroscientist Michelle Ellefson, is shortly starting to work with her at Cambridge University. We look forward to learning more about their exciting project and earlier school chess research in Brazil.

The ECU recently launched its new certification scheme for School Chess Teachers. The first training course was held in Madrid in July and the second course will be held in London in mid-October. The course was conceived and developed by Jesper Hall and John Foley who first met at the London Chess Conference and who are both on the Education Commission of the European Chess Union. They will present the course concept at the Conference.

Many other events happened as a result of connections made at the London Conference e.g.  Chess in School conferences  in Poland and Norway, and the Baltic Summer Chess Camp. If you made some special connections please let us know.

Join us to find and meet the best co-operation partners for your project! We are happy to include your call for partners in the programme.

2017 Conference Announced

We are pleased to announce the fifth edition of the London Chess Conference. This popular event is held at the London Hilton Kensington Olympia. It coincides with the London Chess Classic tournament when the world’s top players descend on London to battle for supremacy. The theme of the conference this year is Scholastic Chess i.e. using chess for educational purposes. Registration

We have invited keynote presentations on the themes of:

  • What is Scholastic Chess.

  • Chess and Intelligence

  • A Centre for Chess Education Research

We are planning workshops on:

  • Chess and Primary School Mathematics,

  • Evaluating Chess Education Projects,

  • Settings Standards in Chess Education and

  • Quality and Certification of Teacher Training.

We have invited a range of international experts in various aspects of chess education.  Confirmed speakers include William Bart (University of Minnesota), Agnieszka Bron (Stockholm University), Fernand Gobet (University Liverpool), Jesper Hall (ECU Education Commission), Jakob Rathlev (Dansk Skoleskak) and Jorge Nuno Silva (University of Lisbon).

We invite presentations on the above-mentioned topics, suggestions for additional sessions, debating topics and calls for co-operation. Please write to us at info@chessplus.net

The London Chess Conference remains the world’s foremost meeting point for co-operation, the exchange of ideas and networking with like-minded people. Ancilliary events include the first meeting of the Academic Advisory Board of the ECU some of who will share their research wisdom.  Also taking place will be the kick-off meeting of the CHAMPS Erasmus Plus project.  The CHAMPS (Chess and Mathematics in Primary Schools) Project is a new educational research and development project funded by Erasmus Plus led by a strategic partnership between educationists from the UK, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Hungary.  The results of the project will be presented at the 2018 Conference.

We are continuing to develop the conference programme. Regarding the schedule we can announce that the formal duration of the conference will be from Saturday, 2 December, 12.00 to Sunday, 3 December, 16.00. The conference will be a plenary event i.e. there will be one session thread which will enable attendees to listen to and interact with all the speakers.

Registration is available only through EventBrite.

The conference fee has been significantly reduced to £65 for both days, which includes refreshments and access to the London Chess Classic. Unlike in past conferences, there will be no waivers with the exception of CSC tutors.

Please book your travel soon.

Sponsors

The event is sponsored by Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) and the European Chess Union (ECU). Erasmus Plus contributed towards CHAMPS project members attending the conference.

The Effects of Chess Instruction

Three of the people who have been involved with the London Chess Conference since the beginning have written a paper summarising the state of research into the effects of chess instruction.  Giovanni Sala, John Foley and Fernand Gobet have summarised the state of the art and theoretical challenges. The paper, which is an opinion piece in the the online journal Frontiers of Psychology, places the recent EEF study in a broader context. The EEF study was a large study in England conducted by the Institute of Education and funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation. The study found no long term effect of chess on academic performance. This study finding was regarded as disappointing by many in the chess community. However on closer inspection it turns out that the study had some serious weaknesses.

A major problem is the use of public examination results to indicate whether any intervention has an impact. The trouble arises because mathematics exam results in primary school in England appear to have been getting better and better over the last two decades. This may be because children are getting smarter or it may be for other reasons to do with school league tables and teaching to the test.

ks2mathsimprovement

In the upper diagram we see the latest results for KS2 mathematics (children aged around 11). Rather than the expected Normal distribution, we find what can only be described as a Half-Normal distribution.  Half the children have scored 75% or more. This is an extraordinary result because our traditional experience with children is that some are good at maths but most struggle. The skewed shape of the exam results deserves some explanation.

The lower diagram shows how the shape of the exam results distribution has shifted over the past two decades. What we are witnessing is the accumulation of effects of educational policies which produce good results irrespective of the underlying differences in personal ability of the children. Finally, in 2015, we see that the shape has shifted so far to the right (called negative skew) that the results in maths cannot be regarded as very helpful in representing the underlying reality.

The technical term for this artefact is the “Ceiling Effect”. If examinations produce an artificial limitation on the distribution of results then we cannot distinguish those children who might have done much better.  If most children are doing great, then how can an educational intervention such as chess make any noticeable difference? More generally how can any educational intervention be detected?  This is a wider issue for the mathematics education research community to resolve.

 

 

 

Reminiscences

How time flies! The Didactics of Chess are well behind us, if still fresher in our memories than the previous three editions.

Beginnings were modest. The first London Chess Conference, back in 2013, could fit in one of the commentary rooms at the London Chess Classic. With a grand total of 15 speakers (distinguished though they were), the gathering had a decidedly cosy ambience. “Plenary workshop” was not a contradiction in terms. By the first afternoon, everyone had met everyone else. Forget cursory introductions: one would have had a long, stimulating conversation with every other delegate over the course of the weekend. Sessions ran consecutively, aministrative work was minimal, and the networking gathering was an affair so quiet and serene that many would entertain ideas of a quick game of chess. Those were simpler times.

Fast forward three years and we all found ourselves at an eight-room conference centre to discuss teaching chess with 150 delegates working in 25 countries of the world. The 4th London Chess Conference was by far the largest and most international ever gathering of educators, researchers, schoolteachers, coaches, organisers, civil servants and non-profit executives interested in how chess can be used as a force for driving educational attainment. Disappointment was universally voiced at having to choose between concurrent sessions, all equally excellent. But there was no alternative: who would have time to attend a fortnight-long conference? That is what it would have taken to run all talks, workshops, seminars, debates and panels consecutively.

The diversity of topics was staggering and the quality of sessions universally excellent. As has become a tradition, a competition was also held: this time for the best chess exercise involving collaborative problem solving. In the end, the judging panel could not decide between two very different entries, and awarded a shared first prize.

As is unavoidably the case with an event at such scale, there were organisational challenges, but we hope that they remained hidden behind the scenes. At the end of the day, it is not our work as organisers that made the Conference what it was, but the expertise of over a hundred unbelievably clever and dedicated delegates along with your love of chess, passion for education, and selfless enthusiasm for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Our job was gathering all of you together in one building; if we could do that, the event was guaranteed to be a success. We hope that everyone left London feeling as inspired as we certainly did.

From all of the organisers to all the attendees, thank you for making the 4th London Chess Conference so unforgettable.