All posts by Stefan Löffler

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.

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.

Size Matters

When studies on school chess are claimed to have a positive effect, it is no big deal. Very few interventions in school show no effect or a negative effect. Size matters. On the average, the effect size of an educational intervention in school is 0,4. An effect size above 0,4 is therefore seen as a desirable outcome. This has been established in a synthesis of more than 800 metaanalyses of studies on educational interventions directed by John Hattie from the University of Auckland in his seminal “Visible Learning” (2009).

Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet (pictured above at our 2013 conference) from the University of Liverpool have picked up Hattie´s challenge and conducted the first real metaanalysis of studies on chess in school. According to seven criteria they included 24 studies based on more than 5000 students in the experimental and control groups. They found an average effect size of 0,338. It was less in reading abilities and slightly bigger in maths abilities, but smaller than Hattie´s treshold of 0,4. However, after excluding studies with less than 25 hours of chess Sala and Gobet found an average effect size of 0,428, which is quite satisfiable.

The first real metaanalysis on chess in Schools has been presented by Giovanni Sala from the University of Liverpool.
The first real metaanalysis on chess in Schools has been presented by Giovanni Sala from the University of Liverpool.
As Sala pointed out in his presentation at the conference, none of the studies reached the highest methodological standard of comparing chess not only with no intervention but also with another intervention. Their metaanalysis has been accepted and will soon be published by a journal. We are delighted that they gave us permission to publish a preprint version. If you want to quote it, please contact Giovanni.Sala@liv.ac.uk for an updated reference.

And the Winner is: Luis Blasco!

Social Chess Project Competition Winner: Luis Blasco and IM Malcolm Pein
Social Chess Project Competition Winner: Luis Blasco, left, being congratulated by CSC Chief Executive Malcolm Pein.

Ajedrez y TDAH, a Spanish project that develops chess as an educational intervention for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), has been voted as the clear winner of the Best Social Chess Project competition by the attendees of the Chess and Society conference. Project leader Luis Blasco de la Cruz has received the award and £500 from Malcolm Pein, CEO of Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC).

Ajedrez y TDAH is linked to Universidad Europea Madrid, the Hospital General de Collado Villalba, the ADHD Organisations APDE SIERRA, CADE and Fundación Activa as well as the Erasmus Plus-sponsored CASTLE project. 64 Villalba Chess Club is developing the program and Madrid Chess Academy is training teachers and giving the option to carry the Project to another places outside Madrid.Luis is working on a manual for teachers and is available to train teachers in Spanish or English as well as to consult on adding and adapting a module on ADHD to teacher training programmes abroad.

Best Social Chess Project Award finalists (from left) Luis Blasco, Marisa van der Merwe and Tal Granite awaiting the result of the audience vote (photos: John Upham)
Best Social Chess Project Award finalists (from left) Luis Blasco, Marisa van der Merwe and Tal Granite awaiting the result of the audience vote (photos: John Upham)

The competition was part of the first Social Chess Entrepreneurship Bootcamp that was held before and during the conference thanks to grants by the European Chess Union and CSC. Social chess entrepreneurs from nine countries heard lectures and took part in workshops.

The trainers were Johanna Valentin on business plan, Mike Truran on project proposals and pitching, Bob Kane on sponsoring and sponsor relations, Gabriel Fernandez Bobadilla on capital management, John Adams on (social) return on investment and Andrea Schmidbauer on social media marketing. Bob, Johanna and Mike were also jurors and heard the participants´ project presentations. As they found all projects valuable and promising, the jurors had a hard job to pick three finalists to present to the conference audience. The bootcamp participants gave each other feedback and helped the finalists to polish the versions that were finally delivered.

It is hoped that the experience and initial interest from additional sponsors will lead to a repetition at the London Chess Conference 2016.

Make the Best of the Conference!

hilton olympiaGetting you to cooperate is the main goal of this conference. This is why we have added more opportunities to interact in workshops, debates and the exhibition. Ask the conference team if you look for partners. Use the exhibition area to show your materials and to check out what the others have. Agree on what you can do together in the future and stay in touch. The printed programme includes a participants list with your e-mail contacts.

Registration opens at the Hilton Olympia on Saturday at 10. If you visit the Olympia for the opening day of the London Chess Classic on Friday (and are not a registered participant of the bootcamp) please notify
tereza@chessinschools.co.uk.

Another option for Friday might be a visit to the Tate Modern which opens until 10 pm and has free live music, performances and exhibitions. Friday is also the announced release date of the movie “Pawn Sacrifice”, but we could not locate any London theatre that is showing it.

Upon your arrival you will get a printed programme at the venue. You don´t have to register to attend any of the conference sessions, even though the conference is very well booked.

The wheather in London is mild throughout the week-end with highs above ten degrees. Sun is only forcasted for Friday, it may well also stay dry on Saturday and Sunday.

The UK has its own kind of electricity plugs. Converters are available for 1 pound at poundshops (elsewhere expect to pay 4 pounds). We stock converters at the conference and at the Lily Hotel for you.

It is still possible to make a guess and win the prize offered by Björn Frank. It only takes a minute. Everything you need to know is here.

Please report about the conference. Use this website, which is now going into documentation mode, twitter (#LondonChessConf) and the photo and video materials which we will provide.

Please bring your educational and marketing materials to show to others. If you want a designated area in the exhibition please contact us.

If you make a presentation (yes, there are enough projectors) please e-mail us the presentation.
Most or virtually all presentations will be available from the conference website. If you don´t want your presentation online or want to provide a different version this is perfectly fine but you have to tell us.

Have a safe journey! We are all very excited to see you!
John Foley, Stefan Löffler, Tereza Pribanova

Programme Updates

conference logo
We have to apologize if the updated programme includes surprises over what you have seen before. We had to make several changes, including some this Wednesday and Thursday, due to speakers withdrawing for health and personal reasons. We also strive to avoid clashes that would impede speakers from making their contributions.

Specifically, we had to cancel the History of Chess in Society session that was planned on Sunday. To avoid a too long afternoon we have shortened the parallel workshop session on Saturday starting 16.30 to end at 17.30, from when the World Café Debates will add an interactive and more personal touch. We have also shortened the Sunday afternoon and expect the conference to finish at 17.00.

Please check the updated schedule page.

Chess as Social Enterprise

Social applications of chess are often pioneered and developed by individuals. There is a growing spirit of social enterprise in chess and a need to professionalise. Chess in Schools and Communities and the European Chess Union (ECU) have joined forces to call the first Social Chess Entrepreneurship Bootcamp during the Chess and Society Conference.

The selected participants are:

      Radislav Atanassov (Bulgaria)
      Luis Blasco de la Cruz (Spain)
      Kevin Cripe (USA)
      Tal Granite (Canada)
      Balazs Kecskemeti (UK)
      Monika Korenova (Czech Republic)
      Patrick Reinwald (Austria)
      Erzsebet Sarlos (Hungary)
      Hedinn Steingrimsson (Iceland)
      Marisa van der Merwe (South Africa)
    Kajetan Wandowicz (UK)

The Bootcamp includes lectures and workshops on topics such as Business Plan, Finance and Fundraising and Social Media Marketing as well as a competition. An expert jury will hear the project proposals and preselect the finalists. The conference audience will then vote the best social chess project.

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