Honors students learn the academic, social benefits of chess for children while teaching it in schools

By:    Date: 09-10-2014

Through UH 333, a chess in education course, students teach life skills and the game of chess to second through 12th graders.

BY KARLY WEIGEL | PHOTOS BY MICA AGUILAR AND ALAINA CLARK

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History teachers might struggle with keeping events that happened 150 years ago exciting for kids, but even in the digital age, a game more than 1,000 years old continues to
fascinate local children.

Visitors to Tuscaloosa classrooms are regularly amazed at the scene: children gathered around chess boards, carefully planning out moves and clearly enjoying themselves. At each board, a college student looks on, providing guidance, encouragement and a quick smile.

These classes partner UA students with second through 12th graders in Tuscaloosa public schools as part of UH 333 Every Move Counts: A Chess in Education Project, a nationally unique, rapidly growing service-learning initiative of the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility. In addition to reading about and discussing the academic and social benefits of chess and its emerging role in U.S. education systems, students develop lesson plans and spend at least two hours each week mentoring and teaching chess to children in nearby schools.

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UA student John Powers points out a smart move to Alberta Elementary School student BreKendria Sanders. ABOVE: Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary School student Marshall Combs plans his next move.

“It has been amazing for me to see the students grow in their chess skills,” said Savannah Trinkle, a sophomore majoring in elementary education. “Chess also is a great way for students to develop high self-esteem because they can see their progress each time they play.”

The program has grown significantly since Spring 2010, when it began with three UA students teaching chess to 12 sixth graders. In Fall 2013, 54 UA students taught chess to approximately 280 children from Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle, Alberta Elementary School, Central Elementary School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, Oakdale Elementary School and Oak Hill School.

Four schools now have chess teams that compete in tournaments throughout the year.
Educational research shows chess improves critical-thinking, problem-solving and concentration skills as well as math, reading and English scores. Since gender, ethnic background and socioeconomic status are irrelevant to the game, chess brings together diverse groups of children, helping them build friendships they might not have formed otherwise. The game also instills life lessons such as perseverance, responsibility, sportsmanship and planning ahead.

“You really have to think about the moves you make, and if you lose, you learn from your mistakes,” said Josue Garcia, a sixth grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle. “It helps you think about what you do before you do it. Let’s say you get mad at someone. You might say something and it might hurt their feelings or start a fight.”

Since its inception, Every Move Counts has held a Tuscaloosa- area chess match each year for children in the program and others in West Alabama to come together and experience competitive play. During Summer 2013, Every Move Counts held its first summer chess camp on The University of Alabama campus.

“I enjoy watching my students improve throughout the semester and take pride in watching them compete in a tournament setting,” said Michael Goetsch, a junior biology and Spanish major.

Every Move Counts is a student-led initiative. Students involved in earlier semesters of the program return as “lead volunteers” through an honors independent-study course. This structure facilitates expansion of Every Move Counts and gives students an ownership stake in the initiative.

Goetsch, who has been a lead volunteer for four semesters and has taught chess at three schools, said he returns because he appreciates not only the opportunity to make a positive impact on the community, but also the fun atmosphere created by the initiative. “Being able to get to know the students we work with and watch first hand as they learn is probably the most rewarding aspect of this program,” Goetsch said. “I never expected to enjoy EMC so much when I first signed up for the course. I could not recommend this program more strongly.”

To learn more about Every Move Counts, visit cesr.ua.edu or contact the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at cesr@ua.edu or 205-348-6493.

Why Chess?

In the United States, chess has not achieved the status it holds in other countries. Nearly 30 nations around the world include chess in their education systems, and the International Olympic Committee recognizes chess as a sport.

Recently, education communities in the United States have begun taking note of the academic benefits of chess, and a growing number of states are including it in their curricula.

Every Move Counts is nationally unique in utilizing college students to implement chess lessons in schools. “Chess is increasingly popular among college students, and the proven educational benefits of the game for school-age children are remarkable,” said Stephen Black, director of the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility. “Bringing these two groups together provides advantages for both: through mentoring young chess players, college students establish a tie with the community while teaching a game they enjoy, and children have fun while reaping educational and social rewards.”