Chess, The Classy Equalizer

IMG_5301I couldn’t possibly be more excited to be starting a chess club at Willow Lane Elementary! This Tuesday is our first meeting. I had tossed around the idea of starting this club when I began teaching at Willow, 8 years ago. Instead, I began an after school club that published a school newspaper: Willow Lane News Update.

This experience was very rewarding. I learned a lot about iMovie, editing and publishing, plus Google Sites. I found a fantastic tool for online publishing; Smore.com. I don’t regret one minute of it.

The chess club will be a lot different because, while it can be addictive, it doesn’t hang over your head the way a publishing deadline, albeit self-imposed, might. It’s just a game. Or is it? –Check out these two battle for Room 207 2017-18 classroom champion after a week and a half tournament!

The idea for this blog began when I decided to pick up the Newbery Medal Winner that I’ve been slowly chewing, “Tales From Silver Lands” by Charles J. Finger (1924). Low and behold, what do I think of but chess… Of course! But, hear me out: A character from the second story (Yes, I am only on the 2nd tale!) exhibits a wonderful quality that chess shares: Equality.

There is an aging king who is seeking a son-in-law to take over the reign of his land. The beautiful, talented, wise princess has found no suitor to her liking. Men from every corner of land compete in sports and arts to win the woman’s affection. One day a man dressed in rags shows up. Every other suitor brought wonderful gifts for the princess and king. This man has nothing. But, when he competes in the contests, his carefully aimed arrow splits that of the best marksman’s. This ragged man does not just run faster than the deer-like champion. He flies like the wind. And, when it comes to singing, the man dressed in rags attracts the beautiful birds of the jungle, who cover him with wonderful wings. In other words, the man who seemingly had nothing, possessed the greatest talents, abilities, and attraction.

One of the amazing things about chess is that anyone can excel. It is a classy equalizer. No matter the age, gender, physical ability, or socio-economic status, chess is a vehicle anyone can drive.

It was the ability of the man dressed in rags to out match his opponents, rather than his looks, wealth, or status. The events that he competed in could have been practiced for nearly free, so that this character could have grown up running and singing. He might have made his own bow and arrows that he used to gather the food to stay alive. In the same way, chess can be taught to and played by all. It is a game that anyone can learn and grow to play well.

The 2018 World Chess Championship began this week. I was reading an article about Magnus Carlsen, five-time world champion, and was impressed by one of his life goals: “Make chess cool” (Kleinman, 2018). Carlsen has produced an app called “Play Magnus” in which chess enthusiasts can choose different ages of Magnus Carlsen to challenge. The idea is for players to gain bragging rights. This champion of chess is putting himself out there for kids to beat! “I defeated Magnus Carlsen!” is what he hopes to hear from kids who will spread the excitement to future potential pawn pushers. What a great ambition. And, the greatest equalizing part of it all is that the app is FREE!

Another popular and fantastic equalizing story is that of Phiona Mutesi, “Queen of Katwe.”  The true story of Phiona, who is from a village in Uganda where kids have to sleep in hammocks, high off the ground, so they don’t get washed away, out of their homes by surprise floods, among other things, was made famous by author Tim Crothers (2013). His book was made into a Disney movie in 2016 (Nair).

Frank Brady, the author of the one of the best-selling chess books in history, “Profile of a Prodigy,” wrote an article about an exhibition, “Into the Human Light: Uganda” (2016), for the US Chess Federation. In addition to all of Phiona’s hardships living in Uganda, Brady suggests that her plight was “sad”… until “She found chess.” Never mind economics, chess can raise the human spirit.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most influential organizations in helping me prepare to begin the new Willow Lane Chess Club: After School Activity

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ASAP works to equalize the opportunities for urban kids to be able to participate in the challenging, competitive, thinking, rewarding game of chess.

Partnership (ASAP) of Philadelphia. This past summer a friend, Julia Dweck, invited me to a Scrabble training that took place on the eleventh floor of a building in the heart of Philadelphia. I made the hour-plus drive to meet her there, and it was one of the better decisions I’d ever made! Come to find out the same organization that provides free training and supplies to educators interested in starting Scrabble clubs also promoted chess clubs. I greatly enjoyed my Scrabble training, and before leaving, found out about the chess program.

There is endless amounts of free apps, websites, curriculums, worksheets, etc. about chess online and at libraries. I downloaded a humongous manual on managing a chess club the summer before. It wasn’t until I revisited the ASAP office on Locust St. in Philadelphia, again in July, though, that I felt like I could actually do this. A handful of other future club leaders and myself were shown how to focus on deepening an understanding of each piece, rather than simply explaining the rules and letting kids have at it. Not only is this training completely free, but if I were an educator within the city limits, the organization would have provided me with supplies for free! In addition to the phenomenal training, ASAP also sponsors several free tournaments and other events throughout the year. The kids of Philadelphia are incredibly lucky to have this truly philanthropic organization. It is working to equalize the opportunities for urban kids to be able to participate in the challenging, competitive, thinking, rewarding game of chess.

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Sources:

After School Activities Partnerships. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://www.phillyasap.org/index.php/chess/aboutchess 

Brady, F., Dr. (2016, October 22). Exhibition Review: Into the Human Light: Uganda. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://new.uschess.org/news/exhibition-review-into-the-human-light-uganda/

Crothers, T. (2013, March 12). Game of her life. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from http://www.espn.com/espn/news/story?page=Mag15gameofherlife

Finger, C. J. (1924). Tales From Silver Lands. New York: Doubleday. [3rd Newbery Medal Award Winner]

Kleinman, D. (2018, November 9). From Chessboard To Boardroom: Magnus Carlsen’s Winning Regimen. Retrieved November 10, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielkleinman/2018/11/09/from-chess-board-to-board-room-magnus-carlsens-winning-regimen/?utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_content=1888317888&utm_campaign=sprinklrSportsMoneyTwitter#34984ebb78dc

Nair, M. (Director). (2016). Queen of Katwe[Video file]. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Katwe-Theatrical-Version-Oyelowo/dp/B01LYVID8R/ref=tmm_aiv_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Weimann, M. (2018, July 19). “From Paralyzing Parameters to Powerful Potential; The Classy Pawn”. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://thecaptainofclass.com/2018/07/19/from-paralyzing-parameters-to-powerful-potential-the-classy-pawn/

Weimann, M. (n.d.). Willow Lane News Update. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from https://sites.google.com/eastpennsd.org/willowlanenews/home

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Matt Weimann

I am a 3rd grade teacher (since 2011) at Willow Lane Elementary (http://www.eastpennsd.org/willow/) in Eastpenn School District, Macungie, PA. I have run a school-wide newspaper club for three years and am starting a chess club this year. What makes me me is artistically blending technology with hands-on, crafty, artsy, messy, tinkering, exploring, discovering activities. You can learn more about me on my school website "About Me" page: https://sites.google.com/eastpennsd.org/mrweimann/about-mr-weimann

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