Category Archives: Research

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.

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.

London Chess Conference 2016

The 4th London Chess Conference will take place at the Hilton Olympia on 10, 11 and 12 December. For the first time we will be able to hold a three-day gathering.

This year’s main theme will be The Didactics of Chess. We are planning talks, workshops, discussion sessions, panels, presentations and other contributions on different ways of teaching chess, especially in a classroom environment.

The last three editions firmly established the London Chess Conference as the world’s foremost professional gathering of people interested in the impact of chess (and strategy games generally) on education, and how it can be a force for good in society. Amongst the contributors attracted to London each year there are leading chess education practitioners and researchers, academics working in the field, educational software authors, executives of non-profit chess organisations, journalists, authors, teachers, headteachers, politicians and others.

We organise the conference but we do not make it work. It is the profile of attendees and the quality of their contributions that define this excellence. Let us make the fourth edition the finest one yet.

If you have not yet registered, please do. If you would like to contribute, please contact us as soon as possible on conference@chessinschools.co.uk. We invite submissions on all aspects of the principal theme. Here is but a small set of suggestions:

  • Using Chess in Primary School Mathematics
  • Promoting Metacognition through Chess
  • Teaching Chess together with other Strategy Games
  • Chess for Disadvantaged Students
  • Training Teachers to Teach Chess
  • Certification for Quality Chess Instruction
  • Lobbying for Chess in the Education Community
  • Evaluating Chess in Education Projects
  • From School Chess to Junior Chess
  • Raising Chess Talent
  • Business Models in Chess Teaching
  • Chess in Libraries, Science Centres and other Informal Settings
  • Chess as a Model for Scientific Research
  • Chess History Research with a Social Perspective

We look forward to seeing you in London.

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.

Chess can be Cure or Disease

online addiction unknown sourceHe was in his mid forties and there was nothing better for him than playing chess online. He had loved the game since his youth, but didn´t become hooked until worthy opponents were always within a few clicks´ reach.

He started to miss work, spent whole nights in front of the screen, eventually got missing. His wife didn´t see him for days. Later it turned out that he spent them locked away in the attic, idling away on online games and sleeping right there not to be bothered by anyone or anything but chess. Later was when his wife dragged him to a therapist. The couple went there three times but to no avail. The man didn´t find anything wrong with his constant urge to play chess. Nor with giving up on life apart from the game.

Developing a behavioural addiction in mid life is not unusual, we were told by this man´s therapist. He usually treats patients who gamble online or spend their wake life with video games. But he wasn´t aware that chess could be fast enough to constantly trigger dopamine responses. When he learned about the very fast time limits of online chess, he confirmed that it can be addictive.

We have learned of grandmasters who blitz away far beyond what could be legitimated as training or having fun. The majority of those who loose control over their online play are amateurs. What can online chess servers do to help players at risk?

When we invited Danny Reinsch, Vice President of Chess.com, the biggest chess server, he was certainly aware of the problem. He pointed out though that some of the heaviest players used to have more damaging addictions in the past. Chess was rather a path out of the dark for them.

Chess therapy might be an efficacious add-on treatment for some addiction patients, suggests a review by Sabine Vollstädt-Klein.
Chess therapy might be an efficacious add-on treatment for some addiction patients, suggests a review by Sabine Vollstädt-Klein.

Online chess addiction is one of the aspects in our path breaking workshop Chess and Addiction. Sabine Vollstädt-Klein from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and Professor at the University of Heidelberg reviews the latest research on cognitive remediation therapy, which suggests that chess could be an effective and cheap intervention for some addiction patients. In Brazil chess has already been tried as a therapy for drug users. Darcy Lima will present promising data from a brand new study.

Skak gør børn klogere

This means “Chess makes children smarter” and is the headline of a six minute report by Denmark´s TV 2 main news broadcast last Monday.

denmark tv2 newsThe TV talked to Michael Rosholm and Andreas Rasch Christensen from the University Aarhus. There research was done on a pilot, where fifth-graders had one weekly maths lesson replaced by a weekly chess lesson for one school year, after which they did better on maths than pupils in a control group. Rosholm, a reputed education scientist, said that chess teaches thinking, and that thinking ahead and improved self-control are likely the main factors to explain the improved performances. The TV crew visited Virupskolen, a school in Hjortshoej, where an impressed teacher, Linne Nissen, said that she is going to start chess with her first grade next year.