All posts by John Foley

About John Foley

Director, London Chess Conference Member, Education Commission, European Chess Union Promoting chess as a way to develop thinking skills

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.

 

 

 

National Mind Sports Centre

Plans are afoot to establish a National Mind Sports Centre where chess and Go and other strategy board games can be played.  The project is a joint venture between the English Chess Federation and the British Go Association. It has long been desired to find a place to play league games and competitions and to hold gaming events.  Teaching and training would be part of the mix to encourage the next generation into the boardgame realm.

The latest initiative arose from Go player T Mark Hall who left a substantial legacy for the establishment of a centre in London.   He fondly remembered the place where he played go as a youngster and wanted others to revive the concept.  We are all familiar with the problem of finding a space for community activities.  Pubs and church halls serve the purpose but are not ideal.

The original National Chess Centre was in the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street.  John Spedan Lewis was a devotee of the game.  Unfortunately the Centre was bombed during WW2.  After the war,  a number of coffee houses, such as the Prompt Corner in Hampstead, open from 10-midnight, kept the spirit alive. It was popular with intellectuals such as George Orwell and European emigrés but eventually all these unique places disappeared.

A recent trend is the rise of board game cafés in which patrons pay a board fee and are expected to buy some drinks and maybe a meal. These are popular with young adults who are to be found socialising in fashionable places like DraughtsLondon in Shoreditch.

Casual Chess Cafe
Casual Chess Cafe London

Chess and Go have traditionally been played in relative silence, certainly at the higher levels. This factor has made it more difficult to find suitable venues and to attract people to clubs. Bridge, being an inherently social game, does not suffer the same problem. The Casual Chess Club which is held daily in the BFI bar off Tottenham Court Road shows that playing chess in a bar with chatter and music in the background are not always incompatible. There is scope for more than one type of playing area within a venue.

The latest plan is to concentrate all the activities related to mind sports into one place and to combine flexible game playing spaces with in a cafe and a merchandising outlet. The revenues generated from the commercial activities will help to defray the cost of the game activities.  Fundamental to this plan is the acquisition of a property which will cost at least £3 million. There are many issues to be resolved regarding funding options, corporate structure and charitable status.

Amanda Ross, who runs the Casual Chess Cafe, has been commissioned to conduct a feasibility study on the National Mind Sports Centre. She will outline her current thinking in a presentation at the London Chess Conference on Monday 12th December 2pm – 4pm. This session is open to all and does not require registration at the conference. Please come along if you would like to share your ideas and enthusiasm about how to achieve this laudable objective.

 

 

Special showing of the Magnus film documentary

We are delighted to announce that there will be special showing of Magnus for those attending the London Chess Festival (including the Conference and the London Chess Classic).  The film is being shown at the Bertha DocHouse, the home of documentary based inside the Curzon Bloomsbury.  The film will be shown on Sunday 11th December at 8.30pm.

Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen, London, England 31 March 2013 FIDE Chess Candidates Tournament Foto: Morten Rakke / NTB scanpix

Magnus  is a delightful documentary following the emergence of the greatest chess champion of modern times, Magnus Carlsen.  Watch the TRAILER.

The film lasts one hour and 18 minutes.  The adverts at the Bertha are short so you should be away by 10pm.  Even if you know the story of Magnus (and who in the chess world does not) there are some new images and videos from Magnus’s childhood which are worth seeing.

The Bertha DocHouse has a bar on each level of the cinema; the one on the ground floor is a nice meeting area, comfy sofas etc.  Travelling to the cinema by public transport from Olympia, go to Hammersmith (bus or walk) and then take the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square, the nearest tube stop.

To book tickets directly BOOK HERE (go to non-members on the left)

There is a concessionary rate available (£7 instead of £9) for advanced group bookings provided you email  Agnieszka by Friday 9th December. The cinema only has 55 seats and may get full.  You must go via Agnieska to get the concessionary rate – you cannot obtain this deal by booking direct.

Agnieszka

 

ECU Prize Competition : New Chess Exercise

We want to encourage the adoption of new teaching ideas that can be used in the classroom. Each year the conference promotes the development of chess education through a prize competition. The prospect of a reward may tempt you to submit an entry. The first prize is €500 with second and third prizes are €300 and €200 respectively, generously sponsored by the European Chess Union. The objective is to devise an original chess exercise involving collaborative problem solving. The competition is open to everyone.

We want exercises in which children must work together to solve a problem. There is no template or standard problem – it is up to your imagination. We are aware that many chess tutors already use group exercises with children. It may just be a matter of writing down what it is that you do. The answer is that it should be something that you have devised yourself or adapted from another format.

The exercise must involve children working together as a pair, a table or the whole class. It is essential that they interact with each other in solving the problem. It is necessary for the children to exchange information with each other about the problem.

So what type of problems are we looking for? We are completely open and flexible; there is no standard format. However, a standard chess problem (e.g. of the form “White to play and checkmate”) will not succeed if it means children work individually. There must be something about the problem so that the children must work together towards a wider objective.

Exercises will typically involve exploring and solving a structured problem where children organise themselves to conduct a number of tasks. Fruitful areas concern construction and decomposition tasks. In a construction task, the aim is to create an arrangement, for example, a chess position. Can the problem be decomposed into several parts? If so, then can the children work on these separately?

A route-finding example is the traditional knight’s tour which involves moving a knight around the board so that it covers all of the squares without landing on the same square twice. Solving the tour in practice requires placing counters on each square on which the knight lands. Several roles emerge: for example, moving the knight, pointing out the next square, placing the counter, counting the unoccupied squares at the end (the team with the fewest unoccupied squares is the winner). More advanced teams could be given several rules to test e.g. clockwise, edge-hugging etc. which can be worked on separately.

The deadline for submissions is Sunday 4 December 2016 at 5pm London time.


UPDATE: The Competition Jury have extended the deadline for submissions until 5pm London time on Thursday 8 December 2016.


 

2016 Conference: The Didactics of Chess

The fourth edition of the London Chess and Education Conference will take place on 10-11 December 2016 at the Hilton Kensington Olympia. As usual it coincides with the first weekend of the London Chess Classic held at the Olympia Conference Centre. The theme of the Conference is “The Didactics of Chess”. The event is supported by Chess in Schools and Communities.

An experimental number game

Chess is a wonderful board game which brings insights into the broader topic of Game Theory which is a more mathematical approach to analysing competition and co-operation. This type of thinking is very influential amongst economists  – eleven game theorists have won the Nobel prize for economics.

When playing chess, you are really playing two games – one is the logic of the position – the other is trying to outguess your opponent. You have to assess how likely it is that your opponent will fall into a trap. You have to consider not only your opponent’s calculating ability but also their sense of danger. Conversely you have to be on guard whether you are being lured into a trap even though you have not seen the denouement.

BjörnFrank
Björn Frank experiment in game theory

We now introduce a number game devised by one of our presenters, Björn Frank. All you have to do is choose a number. The number you should choose depends what numbers you think other people will choose. Sounds simple? Give it a try. Take a quick look and decide your number. You don’t have to be a chess player. This is a serious study and the results will be announced at the conference.

2015 London Chess Challenge

There is a prize for the winner, claimable only by those who attend the conference.

Chess Pains

An article published this weekend in the Guardian newspaper examines the current state of chess in England, with a particularly harsh light being shone onto the English Chess Federation.  The journalist Stephen Moss, a keen player, has spoken to many of those involved in the game, at club and grandmaster level, and identified problems which are unlikely to be restricted to England. Top of the list of concerns is the continual inability of the Federation to raise sufficient money to support top players and to develop juniors. It seems that those involved in the administration of the game are prone to squabbling amongst themselves to the detriment of pursuing strategic objectives. In spite of this, we should note that England acquitted themselves reasonably well at the European Team Championship in Iceland which finished today. They came 10th after tie-break compared to a ranking of 5th.  In days gone by this would have ben a cause for concern, but today this outcome can be regarded as something of a relief.

Much of the article content is familiar to chess insiders. However, it will probably be surprising to the general public that the ECF Council ousted the Chief Executive and Marketing Director, replacing them with empty chairs, ducking the challenge of how chess is going to make a positive impact in the media and win support from government and funders. A myopia afflicts those who run the game: organising the next event takes precedence over deciding what type of events should be organised.

One of the issues the article highlights is that there is a flipside to the brilliant problem-solving mind for which chess players are famous. Problem solvers can also be problem creators. Single-minded determination can get you a long way in chess but beware losing contact with the real world.

Stephen-Moss-L
Stephen Moss: argues that brilliant people create problems too.

 

Stephen Moss will be hosting a debate on Making Chess More Friendly on Saturday 5th December 2015.

 

 

 

 

Top photo: John Robertson at 4NCL Birmingham

 

Railway station chess

An unprecented number of refugees are crossing into Europe to escape the civil war in Syria and strife in other places. They arrive at the main railway stations in Europe full of stress and fear but also hope. They are hoping a safe future.

In these troubled times, concerned citizens have stepped forward to help in any way they can. One group of chess volunteers led by Kineke Mulder, a web designer, got together to greet the refugees as they arrive at Vienna’s main railway station. They are part of an initiative known as the Train of Hope which offers a welcome and emergency aid to new arrivals. The project started as a Facebook page (Twitter #hbfvie) and just grew.

The problem, as always, is how to communicate with people when you do not speak their language such as Arabic or Farsi and they do not speak German or English. Chess provides a common language – allowing self-expression in a throng of anonymity.

Kineke and her colleagues provide a special chess welcome. They started by setting up several chess boards with tables and chairs in the station concourse. They were immediately surrounded by curious onlookers. Some gladly accepted the challenge to play chess. Others preferred to watch and learn. As usual there were the kibitzers. Soon there were concentrated and happy faces – of volunteers as well as the refugees. Vienna was representing European culture at its best in the form of chess.

johannes-christian
Johannes Lentner                                    Christian Srienz

Kineke, Johannes Lentner and Christian Srienz are spending between 5 and 15 hours per week on the chess boards. They are keen for other people to join them or to start their own version of meet and greet chess.

Kineke will be speaking at the Conference.

Top photo: Kineke Mulder

Railway station chess photos