In math, teachers hope for checkmate |

In math, teachers hope for checkmate

Dominique Taylor/dtaylor@vaildaily.comOrion, 7, left, practices setting up her chess board correctly Wednesday during Kate Smith's second-grade chess lesson at Stone Creek Elementary in Avon. Stone Creek introduced chess into its curriculum this year to help students do better in math, said Principal Betsy Hill.

AVON ” Second-grader Jesse quickly set up the pieces on his chess board with classmate Abraham as they sat on the carpet of a Stone Creek Elementary classroom.

Chess is nothing new to Jesse, who plays at home, he said.

“I like it when I win, but I tell the other person he did good and stuff,” Jesse said.

Students like Jesse and Abraham completed their second chess lesson last week. In two Stone Creek second-grade classes, chess will be taught for an hour every Wednesday this school year.

The chess curriculum is based on “First Move,” an American Federation of Chess program that 155 other schools throughout the United States teach, according to the chess organization’s Web site.

Stone Creek pays $600 annually for the program, which includes materials such as chess boards and pieces and also for teacher instruction, said Stone Creek Principal Betsy Hill.

Playing chess will help students improve their writing and math skills because the game teaches problem solving and strategy, Stone Creek teacher Kate Smith said.

“They have to stop and think about their moves,” Smith said. “They also have to do that in math and in their writing.”

Students in Smith’s class started with the basics Wednesday. They learned the history of chess, the names of the pieces and on which squares to place them on the board.

“And remember, it’s chess with no T at the end,” Smith told students before she put them in pairs and gave them plastic black and white pieces to set up on their boards.

Second-grader Abraham described the strategy of the game.

“You have to try and save things,” Abraham said.

Second-grader Lexus was looking forward to learning so that she could play with her sisters, she said.

Hill taught at an elementary school in Medina, Wash., where some parents from the wealthy town (Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates lives there) were members of the American Chess Federation.

Citing data from studies showing that children who play do better in math, those parents suggested including chess as a part of the school’s curriculum, Hill said.

Hill brought chess to Stone Creek because students ” particularly third-graders ” were not scoring as high in multiple-step math problems, she said.

Stone Creek had very high scores and beat out all state averages in the 2007 Colorado School Assessment Program, or CSAP. Fourth-graders at Stone Creek scored 100 percent proficiency in reading, 94 percent in math and 89 percent in writing, beating out even the best Eagle County schools.

“We should have 100 percent in each subject,” Hill said.

At Hill’s former school, students talked during the first couple weeks of chess instruction, but then focused entirely on the game, she said.

“By the middle of the year, you could go into the classroom while the kids were playing and you could hear a pin drop,” Hill said.

And the Medina students improved their proficiency in math, she said.

“We found it helped the kids a lot and it was well worth it,” she said.

Playing chess also will get students to think about consequences of their actions.

“It’s very challenging and it forces them to think,” Hill said.

Hill plans to get third-graders playing chess by at least next year and wants to start an after-school chess club for students, she said.

Second-graders seemed enthusiastic about learning the game Wednesday.

“I’m a good tennis player, so I’ll probably be a good chess player,” second-grader Orion said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or

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