Infectious Thinking: Chess

IMG_1618 2I was glancing around my classroom before I unplugged the Christmas lights and took off, yesterday, and I saw this: A chess board had been “put away” by being placed on the Red Bin. The Red Bin is the place where notes, money, messages, etc. for the office are placed first thing in the morning. They then get sent down to the office with our lunch count in the green envelope seen under the chess set.

IMG_5301We are just beginning our school chess club, this year. I accepted too many members, and don’t have enough of the nice big vinyl boards with 3 inch plastic pieces for everyone. (Christmas idea;) So, we have been using a mishmash of different sets. The one in the picture is magnetized, that’s why the pieces can stay in place.

What struck me about this pic is the concept of actually sending the board to the office! Did a student think that this was a message for the secretaries? Should we move a piece and share the board with another class? There is a buzz around the school of students becoming increasingly interested in this “thinkers game”. I have been working on populating a webpage from my classroom website with chess related information that could be helpful not only to the members of our club, but any beginning player. Mr. Vitale, my third grade teammate and partner in running the chess club, and I have made several videos to post on this website. My dream is for the whole school to become interested in playing chess. I wouldn’t be upset if other elementary schools caught this vision. Wouldn’t it be great for our district, state, country to learn, practice, and master thinking strategically, analytically, as well as creatively?

Mr. Vitale and I began a chess game this past week during lunch. We couldn’t finish it, so it remained set up in Mr. Vitale’s room. He couldn’t help but show and talk to his students about it. I took pictures and shared them with my class. By Friday, we were able to complete the game, but only after both of our classes worked on analyzing the following images to help with potential moves. It was fun, exciting, motivating, and infectious. By Friday, my students were sneaking onto Chesskid.com whenever they could. I found iPads with chess games begun, hiding under notebooks.

Here is an idea: Teachers sign up for the Chess Challenge. The magnetic board travels around the school, visiting learning spaces (not just classrooms). A chess enthusiast, either chess club member or one of my students or myself, can visit participants, if desired, to help with some chess instruction. (In other words, teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to be good at the game to participate.) A paper with notation will accompany the board. This will also be posted on the website for classes to keep up with the game, virtually. The color a class is responsible for will depend on which is moving at the time the game arrives at their doorstep. If it is Black’s move when Room 205 gets the board, then they are part of the black team. When a class captures a piece, they get to keep it until the end of the game. They can display it as a chess trophy. Much of the game is strategy, so rooms could even display thinking by posting writing or drawings of the ideas that prepared their move. Perhaps awards could accompany the moves that displayed creative, analytical thought.

My aim is to not only spread the love of chess, but inspire thinking, especially an affection for analytical reasoning. Lets get kids excited about using their cognitive abilities as much as they are pumped to tackle, shoot hoops, hit home runs, etc. The brain may not literally be a muscle, but it should definitely get exercised!

Sources:

Editorial Staff. (2013, October). Treat Your Brain Like a Muscle: Exercise It. Retrieved December 1, 2018, from https://www.toyourhealth.com/mpacms/tyh/article.php?id=1885

Is The Brain A Muscle? (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2018, from https://www.top-health-today.com/general-health/is-the-brain-a-muscle/

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 3.23.13 AM
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.

IMG_0529

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

Proof is Classy: A Back to School Idea

Worms make better pets
Worms are AWESOME! Fact or Opinion?

Most people have heard of the ice-breaking game, “Two Truths/One Lie.” I enjoy this little game so much that I have incorporated it in my first week of school for several years. I changed the name to “Fact vs. Falsehood” because I am a fiend for alliteration and I don’t like the idea of teaching kids to lie. Additionally, it affords me a teaching opportunity on day one: I break out the vocabulary word, EVIDENCE.

In the past, I would teach the difference between fact and false, and inevitably get things muddled with the concept of opinions. I recently saw a tweet by @tomascmurray, who will be keynoting the East Penn Back to School Assembly for teachers on Aug. 22, that gave me an awesome idea for changing my game. He suggested having interactive, thinking-oriented items on desks when students arrive on the first day of school, rather than a pile of books and papers. I loved this idea!

This year I plan to marry two games, and let kids work on figuring out the rules on their own. In addition to “Fact vs. Falsehood”, the second game is “Classmate Scavenger Hunt”. Traditionally, kids would have a piece of paper with a list on it. They would work on finding other kids who share the same experiences, opinions, and criteria from the list. They write the names of peers next to statements as they find students who fit the descriptions.

This year, however, I plan to break up the Classmate Scavenger Hunt paper list. I will make cards that contain one statement each. They will be placed in a bowl that I’ll put in the middle of each group of desks. Some example statements include:

  • I don’t have any pets.
  • I have more than one favorite color.
  • I have written a book. (Some kids love writing stories into mini booklets.)
  • I took the bus to school today.
  • I have never been to Disney World.Previous Evidence Lesson (1st day)
  • I love to swim.
  • My birthday is in the spring.
  • Summer is my favorite season.

Because there won’t be anything else on the desks, and kids can’t help but touch stuff, I expect that they will begin digging into the bowls and looking at the cards. I hope that they communicate with each other about the statements, finding out which ones they have in common. (Later on we can use the cards to make Venn diagrams, displaying similarities and differences between students.)

In the past, I taught the students in a whole group setting the difference between “facts” and “opinions”. This year, I am going to see if kids can figure out the difference by separating their cards into two different groups. I won’t tell them what the criteria is. They may decide to make a pile of things the classmates all share in common, leaving the rejected statements to their own pile. That would make sense. I’ll simply have them try to find another difference or criteria to categorize the two piles, until they realize that some statements contain phrases that make them opinions.

Eventually, I’ll bring the thinking around to noticing that some of the statements can be proven, while some are impossible to prove, even though you might feel like they are true. The ones that are “prove-able” — able to be proven — are facts. And, how can you prove their accuracy? With… drum-role… EVIDENCE.

roach
This is a roach.
Roaches make cool pets
Roaches make the best classroom pets.

My birthday is in the summer. This is a fact. What proof do I have to support this? The evidence can be found in a few places: Driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, passport, etc.

“Summer is the best season” is an opinion. No matter how much you love it, or how many people agree with you, this is NOT a fact. You simply cannot prove that summer is better than other seasons. It might seem that way, but there isn’t any evidence to back up the statement.

Opinions are not bad or wrong to use. In “5 Classy Elements of ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1921)” I praised the author, Hendrik Van Loon, for providing his personal opinion within a history book. I enjoyed reading some of the ideas that he gleaned from his study of world history. It is helpful to let people know your likes and dislikes. Those are opinions.

baby chickens are cute
Baby chicks are soooooo cute!
baby chickens are noisy
Baby chicks are noisy and distracting.

Trouble arises when opinions are made to seem like facts. “I have a lot of homework” might seem like a fact, but in actuality, this is an opinion. When the phrase “a lot” is used, a statement that might otherwise be a fact turns into an opinion. “A lot,” compared to what? Comparing your amount of homework to what a kindergartener brings home would make it seem like a ton. But, compare your homework to what an eleventh grader might receive, and your task is minuscule! You DO have homework. That is a fact. You can prove that. Your evidence is written on your assignment book page, and you may even have physical papers that are not yet complete. So, saying “I feel like my homework will take a long time to complete” may be a more accurate statement than the one above, but until you actually complete it, there isn’t any evidence to prove just how much homework there really is.

“My homework took twenty minutes to complete, last night.” This is a fact, as long as it is true. There are parts of this statement that can be proven. Did you do it last night? Did it take twenty minutes?

Falsehood (untruth) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Classy Fact (dressed up)
“My homework took me two hours to do!” “It felt like I would never finish my homework last night.” “It took me twenty minutes to complete my homework last night.” “I was surprised to find out that it only took me twenty minutes to do my homework last night, because it felt like it was taking forever.”

Facts can be dry and boring. That’s why we season them with opinions. “My birthday is in the best season, summer.” Your birthday may very well fall within the calendar days that land it in the season of summer, but who is to say that summer is the “best season”? That is your opinion.

Also, opinions are increasingly useful, the more they are explained. While you can’t actually prove an opinion, you CAN support it. A classy person may say, “I love summer because you can swim, there isn’t any homework, and my birthday is in August.” Now, we understand several reasons that cause you to like summer more than other seasons.

For “Fact vs. Falsehood” to work, students should write down two facts that can be proven with evidence, along with one untruth that also can be proven inaccurate with evidence (i.e. “I have three sisters” could be a falsehood if a student only has one.) After students compose their sentences, we go around the room sharing and guessing which of the three statements is false. In this way we learn a little about one another, hear each other speak, practice good listening habits, and appreciate some classroom rules.

That's a big hat
That 24″ diameter hat is rather large.

To close the entire lesson, I might display the following table, reiterating the differences.

Falsehood (hyperbole) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Opinion/Fact (classy compound sentence)
“There were one hundred people at my house last night.” “There were too many people visiting last night.” “I had five extra people in my house last night.” “Five people probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but that more than doubled the normal number of people using the bathroom, showering, and making messes.”

Every year, just before school begins, family visits my house. It is the end of the summer for them, which is a perfect way to wrap it all up. But, it is the beginning of my preparing to start the school year! I’m happy to host, but it is not the best timing. Is that an opinion or fact?