Could chess instruction be the key to academic success in Birmingham classrooms?
By Evan Belanger
on July 14, 2014 at 3:14 PM, updated July 14, 2014 at 3:54 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Unless you’re a chess fan, you probably didn’t know that the modern game of chess dates back to 15th century Europe and the origins of the game date back even further to sixth century India.
And while the first modern chess tournament was held more than a century ago in 1851 London, the game remains a mental battle of strategy, goal setting, sacrifice, consequences and — most of all — planning.
Those are the skills Birmingham City Schools educators hope children will learn with the new Birmingham Chess Initiative.
“We want our students to develop higher order thinking skills,” said Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. “Chess is certainly a means to do that.”
According to a 1998 study by researchers James Smith and Robert Cage, chess is crucial to to improving children’s mathematical skills.
The researchers randomly gave black high school students from the rural South 120 hours of chess instruction. They then administered math proficiency tests and found that students who received the chess instruction scored better than those who did not.
The new initiative, created in conjunction with the 2013-14 Leadership Birmingham class, will provide chess clubs at 15 to 20 schools in the Birmingham system.
According to Birmingham City Schools officials, the benefit of chess instruction is not limited to math achievement.
It is also known to increase analytical and problem solving skills, improve memory and has even been shown to increase IQ scores, they said.
“It also gives our students a constructive activity that can carry them across race, culture and language boundaries,” Witherspoon said.
To implement the new initiative, the school system held a summer chess workshop for twelve Birmingham City Schools teachers who will become chess coaches.
The teachers learned the fundamentals of chess and, depending on their skill level, some were given advanced instruction in chess strategy.
The workshop was conducted by Charles Smith, the chess coach at William J. Christian K-8 School.
Christian’s chess club holds numerous titles and is one of the state’s only all-black chess teams to win the Alabama State Scholastic Chess Championship.
The school system has created a video to promote the new chess initiative and promises more extra curricular activities designed to improve the academic experience of students are on the way.