Checkmate in the classroom
St. Jude students learn chess as part of math

South Bend Tribune Staff Writer

7:47 a.m. EDT, May 22, 2011

SOUTH BEND — Who says mathematics can’t be fun? Or at least math class.

St. Jude Catholic School third- and fourth-graders play and study chess as part of their math curriculum. One day per week for 45 minutes, the students, with their own chess boards and pieces, follow a lesson via DVD.

This is the second year that St. Jude has incorporated a chess component into its math class.

Principal Stephen Donndelinger picked up the idea at an educators’ conference.

“It helps their problem-solving skills and geometric thinking,” Donndelinger said. “But also chess is a worldwide game. You never know if you might be introducing the game to a kid who could take it to another level.”

One who did just that was Dennis Monokroussos, a master chess player who lives in South Bend.

A chess player, blogger and teacher, Monokroussos, 44, visited the St. Jude chess group recently to talk about the game, answer questions and, of course, play them in chess — simultaneously.

Playing 20 students at once, Monokroussos raced around the room, from board to board, taking only a second or two to make his move. The students would then ponder their next move until he returned to their desk.

“That was fun,” said fourth-grader Annika Smith, despite the fact she was beaten in fewer than a dozen moves.

“You can learn from your mistakes.”

Randy Moore, also a fourth-grader, was still alive when the class period ended and they had to halt the match. He had traded pawns with Monokrossos — and wasn’t conceding anything.

“Maybe he would have made a mistake,” Randy said confidently.

Such self-esteem is one of the goals of First Move, in addition to helping students grasp math concepts, improve critical thinking and develop social skills.

Donndelinger, who plays chess but doesn’t consider himself an advanced player, likes what he’s seen.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive things,” the principal said. “A lot of parents have said ‘my kids know more about chess than I do.’”

For that matter, at least one student has difficulty finding opponents.

Nathan Samuels, a third-grader, said he loves the game but not enough people know how to play.

Often, he said, “I have to teach someone before I can play them.”

Meca Macri, a fourth-grader, knew a little about chess before it became part of her class. She’s found it beneficial.

“It helps with coordination and in planning strategy,” she said.

Donndelinger plans to keep chess as part of the school’s math curriculum, although beginning next year it will drop down to second- and third-graders — any one of whom could wind up taking it to the next level.

Staff writer Kirby Sprouls

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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