Category Archives: Research

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.

Presentations Available

Due to technical difficulties and other commitments we have been slow to share the presentations from the conference sessions and workshops. Please excuse the delay. The presentations page is now updated, and more is coming. We have chosen the pdf format to prevent misappropriation. We have added Presentations in the menu, too.

Malcolm Pein, right, opened the conference
Malcolm Pein, right, opened the conference

In School Chess Italy is a Superpower

Alessandro Dominici is the motor of school chess in Italy
Alessandro Dominici is the motor of school chess in Italy
Italy is represented not only by the top player of the London Chess Classic, world number two Fabiano Caruana, but also by several speakers at the conference. The country has a vibrant school chess scene. This is mostly thanks to Alessandro Dominici. The organiser from Piemont in North Western Italy has run two international school chess conferences in Turin and introduced chess to hundreds of schools in his region. He has initiated the learning website La Casa di Scacchi di Vittorio and the psychomotricity on a giant chess board method of coordination games for young children to precede instruction on regular chess boards. One year ago, Alessandro presented at our conference about EU funding for school chess. Now he is leading the Erasmus plus project “CASTLE”. And he is already exploring and propagating new ways to finance school chess.

Roberto Trinchero is probably the most productive school chess researcher
Roberto Trinchero is probably the most productive school chess researcher
Alessandro is working closely with Roberto Trinchero, Professor of Education at the University of Turin. Roberto may well be the most productive researcher on school chess during the last ten years. In the study he is going to present this year, he found that students taught chess by chess teachers make more progress in maths than those taught chess by regular teachers. Giovanni Sala, a young scientist from his team who has recently moved to the University of Liverpool, has already been featured here.

Beatrice Rapaccini is using chess to teach primary students about computation
Beatrice Rapaccini is using chess to teach primary students about computation
Among Italy´s many creative teachers with ideas to use chess for teaching mathematics, we are pleased to have secured Maria Beatrice Rapaccini as a speaker. The former space engineer is working together with the University of Macerata to use chess to teach computational thinking to primary students. She will also share her special version of Psychomotricity in the workshop on Early Years Chess.

Impressive Evidence

Keynote speaker Anna Nicotera has just completed a systematic review of all the studies into the impact of chess in schools (download link below the text). The effect sizes are remarkable, says  Anna, a specialist on the efficacy of educational interventions. Given that chess is usually taught for an hour a week (at most two hours), she considers the reported benefits high – especially when it comes to attainment in mathematics. Like all professional researchers, she counsels that the results should be interpreted cautiously since they are based on fewer than ten studies that met the rigorous eligibility criteria of her review.

Anna Nicotera has analyzed all high quality studies on school chess: It works!
Anna Nicotera has analysed all high quality studies on school chess: It works!

She gathered all empirical studies on effects of chess in school that she could find in English.  She filtered these according to strict methodological  standards and went on to analyse the reliable studies in detail. Many school chess studies are not and could not be included in the final analysis, she says. The overall results of the impact of chess are impressive. In order to identify the active ingredients in school chess, i.e. the precise details of how the impact is made, more high quality primary studies will be required.

Continue reading Impressive Evidence

The Harmony of Chess and Mathematics

Researching the impact of chess on mathematics
Susan Sallon Researching the impact of chess on mathematics

Susan Sallon initially trained as a concert pianist in London and then took a degree in music at Edinburgh University. She then worked for the BBC in the music department. After taking a career break to have eight children, she took a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and taught Music and Mathematics in a  secondary school for twelve years before leaving to start a degree in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Now completing her MSc in Psychology at MMU, Susan has a particular interest in how children learn and is conducting her research into the cognitive effects on mathematics performance in children who learn to play chess at a young age.

Susan came to the attention of CSC when she conducted a study on 500 children comparing those who had studied chess with those who had not. The results were so significantly positive in respect of “thinking skills” that Susan has continued to research the topic. She hopes to expand this research into other areas of learning after finishing her masters. Susan will be describing her latest research in her conference presentation.

Promoting All Children

Christina Schenz, Professor of Primary Education
Christina Schenz, Professor of Primary Education

School chess started out in many places as a voluntary activity in secondary school. It typically attracted bright kids, with a substantial number of them taking part in competitions and moving on to junior and club chess. As a curricular subject in primary schools, chess has to be approached and presented differently. The goal has to be for all kids to benefit. Chess must become inclusive in the broader meaning of the term.

“Inclusive promotion of giftedness” is what educational psychologist Christina Schenz calls it. According to the professor of primary education at the German University of Passau chess should be as suitable or even more suitable than mathematics to discover and promote strengths in all children of a class, because the acquisition of the game depends only to a small degree on language.

Schenz is a research partner and advisor of the project CASTLE, which has secured EU funding to develop and implement a three year chess related curriculum in primary schools in Germany, Italy and Spain and is covered on FIDE´s Chess-in-Schools website. In the early part of her academic career in her native Vienna she also became a teacher of special education to get the inside perspective, which is now very fruitful for her research and teaching. Apart from inclusion and giftedness, her research interests are on the professionalisation of teachers and on gender roles in education. Both topics are relevant to the further evolution of scholastic chess: Too few female teacher think they are up to using the game in their classroom. And chess pedagogy is only just entering the main pathway of professionalisation, which is the academic training of future teachers.

An Ideal Study?

photo Giovanni Sala_London Conference
Giovanni Sala

Connecting people is a main purpose of our conference, which has many informal meetings beyond the official programme. On the eve of the 2013 edition we invited a research workshop. There Giovanni Sala, a young researcher from Bergamo in Northern Italy, first met with Fernand Gobet, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Liverpool. Recently, Giovanni has moved to Liverpool as a PhD student. They are already cooperating on several chess-related investigations.

One of them is on the relationship between handedness, gender and achievement in mathematics and chess, a topic first suggested by Guillermo Campitelli, an earlier PhD student of Professor Gobet from Argentina. While Campitelli had looked at adults, Giovanni´s focus is on children. His underlying hypothesis is that chess instruction at school improves spatial ability.

Another topic he is interested in is metacognition, the awareness of thinking processes. Chess, especially mini-games and chess puzzles, give children relatively easy access to reflecting about how they think when they find the solution or the best strategy. The focus of his presentation at the conference will be on early findings from a study Giovanni has been doing on metacognition in primary school children with Roberto Trinchero from the University of Torino, another speaker at the conference.