NEW HAVEN — Howard Nero, a math and science teacher at Microsociety Magnet School, turned to chess several years ago to help students understand math coordinates. He realized he was onto something and started a chess club four years ago, then formalized it and called it “Checkmate! Chess for Champions” two years ago. Members began working toward tournaments. This year, he brought in the Yale Chess Club to take his 50 players to a new level.
Club members play one another and are paired with players around the world in on-line matches.
“The kids now see math has a purpose behind it. They learn strategy, patience and problem-solving. Problem-solving is the hardest thing for our kids,” he said.
Nero said that students in the club improved their math scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test by 30 percent between fifth and sixth grade.
“I would say that 80 percent of our kids are proficient in math now, they are among the highest math scores in the district.”
ING, the Dutch insurance conglomerate, selected Nero this year as an ING Unsung Hero, its awards program for teachers, and donated $2,000 to Microsociety to expand the club Friday.
Nero will put the money toward paying for more chess games, timers, chess software, transportation and tournament fees.
He will take his top five players to a tournament next month in Orange, but his students will need to compete to be among the five.
Rakeam Durant, 11, a sixth-grader and Microsociety’s reigning chess champ, has been playing chess under Nero since first grade.
“It’s tough because everybody keeps getting better and better,” Rakeam said. “Now my dad wants me to teach him how to play.”
His classmates, Ethan Godfrey, Danjuan Oliver and Lezlie McEarchern, all 11 and in the sixth grade, are eager to challenge him as champion.
“Fool’s mate! You use that (strategy) on everybody,” Lezlie huffed. Rakeam smiled quietly, as if to say, ‘But it works.’
They have already competed in several tournaments, but these students don’t forget why they’re learning chess.”
In chess, you learn math better. You learn eight times eight is 64 because there are 64 squares on the grid,” Ethan said.