Computers in School Chess

Hardly anyone who is teaching chess today refrains from using technology to find materials and methods. As in previous years, we welcome several exhibitors at the conference who will demonstrate how their products can be used for chess in education.

David Kramaley will introduce you to the learning opportunities created by Chessable, which encapsulates a scientific approach to memorising chess patterns and positions. They create digital versions of leading chess books. Their impressive scope extends beyond school chess and junior chess all the way up to training for ambitious competitive players. Mark Szavin from Hungary will walk you through the exciting features of the latest release of LearningChess, an embedded school platform that supports teachers in the classsroom. Carey Fan is the new CEO of ChessKid which is hugely successful in the United States and is now rapidly expanding in Europe. He will show you how you can deploy Chesskid for lessons in school, with a chess tutor or at home.

Theo Wait is head of Legal & Regulatory Compliance at the open source chess server LiChess which has been making waves in the online playing world due to its dazzling array of features and its rapid growth. Theo will describe how the platform is now poised for the education market. Gideon Segev, a computer scientist at Oxford University will present DecodeChess, a remarkable AI-based programme from Israel that explains chess moves with their purposes and shortcomings in an intelligible way. 

The software will be viewable at desks around the venue.  In addition, there will be in-depth half-hour demonstrations scheduled for Saturday afternoon from 14.00 to 16.30 in Room 2. Second demonstrations will take place on Sunday at times to be announced at the conference.

Before personal computers and smartphones came into widespread use, computer chess was associated with tabletop computers. These have lost their visibility in competitive chess but have never gone out of use in the domestic market and have sold in the millions. The German manufacturer Millennium 2000 has teamed up with the London Chess Conference to find out how its products can be applied in the classroom and what features a scholastic version should contain. Alexis Harakis and Stefan Löffler invite you to debate this question, to participate in an explorative study and to check out the products in the exhibition at the foyer. 

Attendees with a special interest in game design are refered to the exhibition Video Games at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum, £18). 

Chess and Books

by Yaroslav Gaveiko, regional co-ordinator, youth organisation “Restart.lv”

Nowadays, children and teenagers pay less attention to reading books. Inevitably, this has led to a debate about the impact on their intellectual development.  Children and teenagers have less free time for exploring imaginative hobbies and spend almost all their free time on digital activities. Unusual steps are necessary to change the situation. Chess clearly has a positive effect on the development of mental abilities. Our education system must use ever more creative methods for children and teenagers to raise and maintain their thinking skills. Our idea is to pick up where Lewis Carroll left off –  a chess game through the plot of book. 

The Latvian youth organisation “Restart.lv”  conducts a wide range of public-spirited initiatives for children and young people. Of course, Latvia is a small country disproportionally famous regarding chess having produced Aron Nimzowitsch Mikhail Tal, Alexei Shirov not to mention Dana Reizniece-Ozola, our Finance Minister who happens to be a grandmaster. The branch of “Restart.lv” in Jekabpils , a small Latvian city, has developed an interesting  approach which has attracted the interest of children for both reading and chess.

The approach combines in one event books and chess using a large “garden” size set which allows children to be physically active. We successfully implemented in a modern theatrical production with “quest games” based on a book’s plot. We conducted the event in several libraries: to plunge into the fantastical world of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the Looking Glass” with children and teenagers.

Lewis Carroll’s Looking  Glass concept is interpreted by literary scholars as an allegory but we using it as an experimental theatrical experience. Within the framework of the “Alice Through the Looking Glass” event, children could play chess whilst enacting the book’s plot. Each child faced the paradoxes so beloved by the real-life Oxford logician.  The kids had to overcome these difficulties and they enjoyed it!

Indeed, there are many different books and films where chess is part of the story. Harry Potter is another source of inspiration for young people. Why not use the synergy of chess and reading, to develop scenarios for future quest games? In our experience, using large chess pieces on a non-standard chess table attracts attention. Children with individual characteristics will be able to complete a specific task and achieve their first successes. It is sweet to feel the taste of victory and socialise in a group.

Chess through the Looking Glass

How to proceed? It is necessary to develop scripts based on books containing the content of the chess game itself. This is an opportunity to effectively present chess and thus stimulate the intellectual environment of young people. Another bonus – the budget does not have to be high.

The ability to participate in a chain of initiatives or in a centralised event will allow children to test out their abilities in a fun game-based environment. Chess should not be heavy but presented in a natural way, enriched by combinations with other intellectual domains such as literature and drama. The objective is that all the participants should feel interested and get an emotional connection. No need to force your child to play chess  just give her or him the opportunity to find the game for themselves. Probably this will encourage more children to play chess.

Playing game and reading books can work together in a complementary way if we have enough imagination. The impact on the younger generation can be quite positive.  

Yaroslav Gaveiko mail

International Day of Human Abilities

An opportunity to promote soft-skills training in school and society

By Giulio Frasson, Centro Studi Podresca

In October 2017, Centro Studi Podresca, an Italian research institute for the development of human abilities, started a campaign for the creation of an International Day of Human Abilities under the United Nations in keeping with their Sustainable Development Goals. 

But what is it all about and what does it have to do with chess?

Society is rapidly changing, there is an ongoing technological revolution, educational systems need to adjust to provide the necessary skills to face the challenges to come. 

The McKinsey Global Institute report of January 2017 stated that “half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, but this could happen up to 20 years earlier or later depending on the various factors”. Basically, all the jobs that are knowledge-based will be easily replaced by machines, robots and AI. We need to rethink the concept of work and education.

In this framework, the development of  “human factors” becomes crucial. Schools, and also life-long learning programmes for adults, are currently focused on technical skills. But they should introduce a new field of learning – to improve the development of human abilities. 

Human abilities are the personal and relational skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, co-operation, lateral thinking, systems thinking, understanding, ethics, purpose, awareness, and so on, – the things that make us unique and keep us together as human beings. Human abilities are the base on which to build the society of the future. 

The remarkable “Chess in Schools” work, carried out by many national chess federations and scholastic chess organisations around the world already serves this purpose. This movement is perfectly aligned with the activity of other organisations that train soft skills in schools and work environments using other methods. Chess is not only taught for sports and recreational purposes –  it can be and is used as a tool to develop a variety of different personal and social skills such as focus, fair play, patience, co-operation, acceptance and many others, depending on how the activity is designed. There are many practices that have achieved considerable results in this field that should be better known and disseminated.

Centro Studi Podresca has been conducting scientific research into Human Abilities for 30 years and has developed a comprehensive method to train human abilities. Despite the fact that many good things are done, awareness on this topic needs to be raised significantly. The typical attitude towards human abilities is that they are part of one’s character and therefore are fixed.  The importance of social confidence and self-esteem for the quality of life is largely underestimated. Even where there is sensitivity, there is little knowledge on how to train these factors.

An International Day of Human Abilities established by the United Nations would be the most appropriate means to increase understanding and actions on the importance of developing skills to express ourselves and interact correctly with others in our daily lives. An International Day can stimulate much-needed debate and communication on a topic. It can lead to  the organisation of international summits of experts; conferences can emerge on the national and local level. It is an opportunity to provide information activities in schools, which is what happens with other topics that have international days named after them.   Hopefully, we will see reforms to educational systems and to the funding of innovative projects such as chess projects.

In this initial phase, the aim of Centro Studi Podresca is to gain support from authoritative governmental and non-governmental bodies, as well as from private citizens, towards a common document inviting the United Nations to designate a specific day to the promotion of human abilities. We would like the chess world to be part of this social enterprise.

Which Workshops for You?

During the parallel sessions of the conference you will have a choice where to go to. Here are brief summaries of the workshops in chronological order.

Saturday afternoon

Chess in Education Strategy This two-part workshop picks up key issues from the first plenary session and addresses how strategic processes can be organised and communicated within organisations and towards stakeholders. (15-16 and 16.30-18)

Chess in Communities Chess projects that are serving social purposes in its immediate surroundings require a different outlook than competitive chess. Three project leaders share their challenges and provide inspiration. (15-16)

Chess in Prisons Chess has been a popular pasttime of prisoners for a long time. Recently it has been picked up as an intervention to educate inmates and young at-risk delinquents. Prison chess leaders come together to exchange experience and develop a joint research project. (16.30-18)

Sunday morning

Large Scale School Chess Events They are a corner stone of promoting and marketing school chess. Presentations on the UK Chess Challenge, Belaya Ladya, Linkes Alsterufer gegen rechtes Alsterufer, Schack4an and the K12 (Super)Nationals will elaborate what makes each of theses events special, and maybe why none has a conference attached to it yet. (9.30-11)

Business Development How can you put your school chess project or teaching business on firmer ground and make it more efficient? Neil Dietsch, who after a long corporate career is running school chess in Alabama, will conduct this hands-on workshop (9.30-11)

Book Presentation: The Learning Spiral Kevin Cripe, a retired teacher who is now running a chess project for disadvantaged kids in Panama, will present and discuss his new book on chess didactics. (10-11)

Teaching Coding and Computer Skills through Chess Strategy games, and chess in particular, provide a great pathway to introduce young students to coding and teach them other computer skills. Boris Raguet, a French teacher and teacher trainer, shows how this can be accomplished. He will be introduced by David Kramaley. (10-11)

Sunday afternoon

Early Years Chess Starting out on chess with preschoolers or first graders comes with special challenges but also with opportunities to use chess to promote basic numeracy, literacy and psycho motor skills. (13.45-15.15)

Making School Chess Research More Relevant Most studies of school chess have concentrated on cognitive benefits and simple comparisons with control groups of children that didn´t learn chess. While their results may be useful for marketing, different research questions and methods are required to improve the quality and efficacy of school chess. (13.45-15.15)

Promoting Social Skills through Chess Initially often targeted at mathematic and logic skills, those who teach chess in schools often find that social skills are promoted equally or even priorily. (13.45-15.15)

Workshops provide ample opportunity to answer questions, discuss and start cooperating

Pick Your Two Debates!

The saturday afternoon of the conference will start with a special debating format, the so-called „World Café“. Five interactive debates will be going on at thesame time. Each debate will be designated by a flipchart in adifferent part of the main hall. Each debate has one or two protagonists that will lead the conversation and engage those who join. After half an hour everyone but the protagonists will beinvited to change and join a different debate for the next thirty minutes. So you are supposed to pick two debates from these five on our plate this year:

Debating circles at a past London Chess Conference

Should after-school chess be taught by volunteers or by professionals? Boris Bruhn brought up this question which bugs many organisations as it has consequences on the quality assurance,trainings and support structure. What is the future of chess clubs? This question, presented by Vince Negri and Paul Barasi, arises inthe context of the relative boom of school chess at an earlier age. How should we relate to parents and teachers? These are the major stakeholders of school chess and the backdrop of the debate is a survey among parents and teachers that Graeme Gardiner has run in Australia. Kerry Turner, a consultant and academic who is far from being a chess activist, asks: Do schools teach the right subjects? What does it take to get the status of a subject? This is a goal, or at least hope, that many activists and officials are hedging.

The purpose of the debates is to exchange knowledge and to collect interesting arguments and perspectives on your debating question and to learn how aconversation on this question is evolving. All of the four debates mentioned so far are relevant for the Strategy workshops that will start later in theafternoon. The fifth debating theme is quite different: What cantable top computers add to the chess classroom? Is there a role for consumer electronics in today´s chess teaching environment? This is brought to you by Alexis Harakis and Stefan Löffler on behalf of theexhibitor Millennium Computers. Make your pick!

Programme Confirmed

The full programme for the 6th London Chess Conference has now been confirmed and it can be found here.

The theme of The Future of Education in Chess is a very important one and we have experts from all over the world who will be presenting their thoughts and ideas.

We believe this to be our strongest line-up to date and we are sure the weekend will provide plenty of food for thought for teachers, tutors, chess players and, indeed, anyone else interested in the role of chess in education.

Limited places are still available but with just over one week to go we strongly advise you to book as soon as possible. Tickets can be purchased here.

Strategy Matters

Our conference theme The Future of Chess in Education begs the question where we are heading to and how our goals can be reached.

One aspect is organisation. At our early conferences we discussed if education-oriented school chess or, as we like to call it, scholastic chess needs an umbrella organisation of its own. Many projects and activists are distant from and in no way represented by the chess organisations in their countries.

One aspect is the orientation. Should school chess serve the interests of clubs and federations or should it put the educational needs of children and schools first? The ECU has rebranded its former school chess commissions as Chess in Education in 2014. Just recently FIDE did the same.

Strategy is a core theme of the conference and therefore very present from the start. In our introductory session (Saturday 11-13) key players like CSC (UK), ECU, FIDE or the French Chess Federation will present their vision and reflect on their current strategy.

Some strategic questions will then be discussed in the World Café Debates (Saturday 14-15): Should organisations rather work with volunteers or with professionals to provide after school chess? What is the role of chess clubs when the game is widely used for pedagogical and social purposes?

The introductory visions and debates will be followed up in an extended workshop that comes in two parts (Saturday 15-16 and 16.30-18) to accomodate all its lined up contributors. The start will be made by two speakers who report on strategy processes: Roberto Schenker will introduce the Swiss Chess Federation´s School and Youth Chess Strategy that has been developed together with a University. Boris Bruhn will report on a recent School Chess Strategy Day in Germany.

Of strategic importance to the conference team is a more effective dissemination of our findings and results. Our answer for now was to hire the French videographer Etienne Mensch. Watch out for what we will come up with this time!

Grandmasters on Board

We are delighted to announce that we have a few Grandmasters as speakers this year.

Smbat Lputian, who won the Chess Olympiad with Armenia in 2006, has since initiated the most ambitious national school chess project in his home country where all primary school children are learning chess for several school years now. Smbat has recently become the new chairman of what used to be FIDE`s Chess in Schools Commission and has just been renamed the Chess in Education Commission. Smbat will explain this name change and line out the future strategy of FIDE.

Bachar Kouatly, born in Damascus and later on the first French Grandmaster and organiser of the Kasparov-Karpov world championship match in Lyon in 1990, has recently been elected as FIDE Deputy President. Bachar is also the President of the French Chess Federation since 2016, where he is spearheading a significant push for chess to be used for pedagogical and social purposes. He will talk about this exciting turnaround and how to run a federation strategically.

David Smerdon has represented Australia at seven Chess Olympiads and is a respected chess author. He is also a behavioral economist, and after several years as a PhD student and Post-doc in Europe he returned to Australia where he is now on tenure track at the University of Queensland. David is keen to direct research into effects of chess interventions as for example in Chess in Prisons projects. He will also deliver a keynote on What an Economist Can Learn from Chess?. His commendable blog, which focuses on the subjects of chess and economics, can be found here.

Workshops to Break New Ground

Workshops form a large part of the London Chess Conference programme. They provide ample opportunity to present projects and findings, exchange best practices and to discuss challenges and new ideas. Many ongoing conversations and cooperations have started at our workshops. The range of workshop topics reflects the diversity of our attendees.

Chess in Communitities (Saturday 15-16) and Early Years Chess (Sunday 13.45-15.15) gather best practice examples in the respective fields. Chess in Prisons (Saturday 15-16) has the specific goal to start an informal network of chess-in-prison projects and also link them with a researcher interested in studying the effect of chess on inmates. Making School Chess Research More Relevant (Sunday 13.45-15.15) brings together scientists and school chess leaders to discuss methodological challenges and ideas for future research.

Increasingly we hear that chess not only helps with numeracy and literacy. Therefore we introduce a workshop on Promoting Social Skills through Chess (Sunday 13.45-15.15). Maybe surprisingly, we never had a workshop before on Large Scale School Chess Events (Sunday 9.30-11) even though the UK Chess Challenge, Schack4an, K12 Nationals, Linkes Alsterufer gegen Rechtes Alsterufer and Belaya Ladya are legendary events whose strategic value for public affairs and marketing cannot be overestimated. Speaking of Strategy, another ground-breaking topic is School Chess Strategy with so many speakers and organisations lined up that this workshop will come in two parts (Saturday 15-16 and 16.30-18).

Following up on this is a workshop on Business Development for School Chess (Sunday 9.30-11) which promises to be highly relevant for aspiring project leaders and professional chess teachers. Neil Dietsch is leading this. Also on Sunday morning we will feature two pioneers: Kevin Cripe, a Californian school teacher who has started a chess project for impoverished children in Panama, will discuss didactic innovations as described in his new book The Learning Spiral (Sunday 10-11). Boris Raguet, a French teacher and teacher trainer, will show how to apply chess to teach coding and other computer skills (Sunday 10-11). Make your pick!

Visions: International Baccalaureate

The programme for this year’s conference offers a rich and varied assortment of guest speakers, covering a wide range of topics within the theme of The Future of Chess in Education.

The Saturday morning session takes Visions as its subgenre and it promises to start the conference in fine style.

One of our speakers will be John Claughton, former Headmaster of Solihull School and Chief Master of King Edward’s School, Birmingham,  from 2006 to 2016.

John, a keen advocate for the International Baccalaureate – the international education foundation – will discuss the battle between depth and breadth in education.

Are schools being forced to specialise the children far too early? Should they be offering the alternative to A Levels, with more respect given to the arts?

It is quite clear that chess (along with many other enrichment opportunities) is being squeezed out of the Secondary School system. What can be done to reverse the trend?

Would the introduction of the International Baccalaureate bring more breadth to the education of our children and, if so, what (if anything) is preventing schools from making the change?

I am sure we are in for a fascinating and passionate discussion.