All posts by Stefan Löffler

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). 

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!

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!

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!

Post-Graduate Course on Scholastic Chess

What is research telling us about the benefits and the best ways of teaching chess? How can chess help to improve learning motivation and develop a growth mindset in your students? Which mini games, chess variants and puzzles can you apply to promote mathematical and logical skills? How can you effectively raise metacognition through chess? These are core themes of the Summer School „Chess in Primary Education“ to be held on 2-6 July 2018 at the University Girona in Spain.

The first ever international post-graduate course on school chess is part of the CHAMPS Erasmus plus project that was launched during the London Chess Conference. The Summer School will bring together teachers and teacher trainers from all over Europe for an intensive week of advanced professional development under the lead of Professors Fernand Gobet (Cognitive Psychology), Barry Hymer (Educational Psychology) and Jorge Nuno Silva (Mathematics and Games). Methods and materials developed in the CHAMPS are part of the course.

Attendees will receive a certificate and can additionally get 3 ECTS upon completion of a paper, based on action research in their classroom during the months after the Summer School.

Applicants must have at least two years experience of teaching chess, a good command of English and be academically trained school teachers or have at least a bachelor in social science, mathematics or another relevant field. We specially encourage applications by those who train teachers for teaching chess. Chess teachers and tutors are kindly refered to the ECU teacher chess training or other courses.

The course fee of €300 includes course materials and refreshments. We offer full waivers for ten applicants from low income countries. Applicants must send a CV and a motivation letter (and if you want to apply for free attendance a proof of current income) until 15 March 2018.

Girona is known for its beautiful old town, excellent restaurants, airport and former mayor Carles Puigdemont. Girona is half an hour drive from the Costa Brava and an hour to the North of Barcelona. Accomodation in a modern student house with personal bathroom, kitchenette and wifi is available for €27 in single and €19 double per person and night.

Ask for a course folder (PDF) or other queries: summerschool@chessplus.net

Harvesting Ideas for Scholastic Chess

Debates in smaller groups are a great way to harvest ideas and engage everyone. We invited experts to propose debating questions and to host these debates. They took place in parallel. After half an hour all participants but the hosts were invited to switch to another debate. Here are the main findings of four debates:

How can Chess Improve Intrinsic Motivation for Learning? Chess has a clear process: I watch – I think – I play. The connection between learning and improving is more obvious in chess. Taking decisions for yourself and winning games promote self-esteem and self-awareness. For all these reasons chess is a great vehicle to promote metacognition, which is the capacity to reflect on and talk about how to learn and to think. Some students feel that learning from failure in chess prepares them for real life. Some develop a passion for the game, which can transfer to other subjects or at least helps to keep children motivated for school and learning.

What is the Best Age for Scholastic Chess? Six or seven years may be the best age to start with chess if the teacher is a qualified pedagogue and introduces chess through stories and mini games. In small groups or one-on-one chess or a light version of chess can be started even earlier. Chess projects in several countries where the school age starts at six suggest that chess helps to get children ready for school. Research suggests that children starting at six or seven years tend to get more benefits from chess than those starting from nine years or older.

What are the Social Benefits of Scholastic Chess? In chess and in life you have no full control over the events, but you can always choose your response. In real life your choices depend on a social environment, which often includes peer pressure and sometimes bullying. Chess is more than an equalizer when it comes to its social implications. Perceptions of failure, what losing really is and how to deal with it, offer many opportunities to learn, which is most welcome from an educator´s point of view.

How should the Scholastic Chess Movement Organise Itself? A scholastic chess network needs to be independent from chess federations due to the divide between education-driven and competition-driven school chess. A scholastic chess network should drive professional development in chess teaching by providing best practice examples, teaching content and opportunities to network and train. It should connect practice and research. It would provide an affiliation and credentials to teachers and chess teachers and make them independent from the goodwill of chess federations which are by nature competition oriented. Usual school chess competitions favour those who learned and trained more competitive chess. A network should promote and develop new types of competitions on a more level playing field.

What would you like to debate at the sixth London Chess Conference?

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.