22 July, 2006

The GENDER Puzzle.

Chess and gender always gets a heated response.
For those who don’t know chess has, historically, been dominated by males. And the obvious question is WHY?
A GOOGLE Search on the topic will return 2,600,000 responses- some which I’ve included below.
Without getting embroiled in gender warfare, I’ve noticed some interesting observations- completely untested- in my own classes.
Last year, I had a predominately male yr9 maths methods class (16males, 4 females) where the boys would BEG to have chess games/tournaments during class time. They would salivate and engage in battlemode of the highest order.
Of the 4 girls, one was a good player, one had never played, and two were indifferent. When they played together (chose not to play with the boys!) they had a co-operative approach, naturally sharing strategies and working much less competitively.
One girl wasn’t the slightest bit interested in playing and continued with maths ‘from the book’. I asked her why girls seemed less interested in playing chess.
And, her response was a classic!
She shrugged her shoulders: “Girls have got better things to do with their time.”
This is interesting when we compare attitudes with my yr7 class: boys and girls seem equally keen to play chess. There doesn’t seem any obvious gender difference and these are the comments we are hearing from primary school sessions.
The implications, and questions from this are interesting.-
1) what happens, hormonally with the onset of puberty, that effects interest in chess, and perhaps other areas of maths development?
2) if chess has the benefits we think, it must be important to introduce it as early as possible.
3) are girls being disadvantaged if they haven’t been introduced to chess pre-pubescant?
4) is there any correlation between girls who complete VCE Maths, and those who have been exposed to chess.
There are many aspects to this fascinating topic. If you have any anecdotes, theories, or ideas, please let us know about them in our comments section.
Before you find the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.


Harry said...

Hi Bloggers,
Yes, gender is a big issue in chess now with women of the calibre of Susan Polgar taking up the challenge.
Why is it that girls increasingly out perform boys in maths-science these days and are as competitive in sport as men, and yet remain under represented at the elite level of chess?
In primary school chess, here in the North Central Victorian Goldfields, girls are as competitive as boys, and just as interested in chess. They perform as well as the boys over the board if not better. It is not uncommon for the girls in the primay school chess club at the end of the tutoring session, after an hour of intense chess, to plead for just one more game.
Then something happens! We know not what. Suddenly, by year8 girls are starting to disappear and make up only about 10% of players, and the loss of female players is never redressed down the track.
The argument that chess is a mathematical discipline and therefore boys should do better, does not hold water because of girls increasing achievement in the maths discipline, and the success of female sport shows their capacity for competitiveness.
Theories abound some outlandish others untenable, as yet no answers.

Anonymous said...

What figures support the fact girls are out-performing boys in the sciences? Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I used to think that I knew enough about Chess to hold my own in a Primary classroom. The upshot of Ron's visits to my school is that this is no longer the case. My last loss was to a grade three child! You can see why I wish to remain anonymous...Oh the shame...but now I am keenly listening to his strategies so that in the future I may again be able to complete at a level that saves face with 8-12 year olds.
Thanks Ron, it has been a fantastic program with far reaching benefits, so pleased to hear that the program will be extended!

Anonymous said...

I have noticed that girls are under-represented at the CSC Lunchtime Chess Club. Perhaps a few more 'teaching' role models will turn this around. An excellent initiative to engage both sexes.

steve said...

Interesting observation. The number of girls participating definately varies.
I imagine if it is percieved as a 'boy thing', girls may be reluctant to get involved.
Perhaps, more female teachers would help.
Perhaps we should find a female tutor, run a girls only session, and see if that changes any attitudes.
Any other ideas.

The Closet Grandmaster said...

You might also like to read this:


And see also: http://www.kenilworthchessclub.org/kenilworthian/2006/07/expert-mind-online.html


Anonymous said...

I am a Grade 4/5/6 teacher, and I don't notice a general rule, when it comes to boys/girls and chess interest and performance. All the students are equally competitive, demonstrate strategic and spatial awareness, and can be impulsive!! I find chess is an ideal activity for breaking down gender barriers that may sometimes occur in other areas, such as P.E., English...

Sam said...

Hi chess aficionados,
I wandered into an interesting site which talks about the arousal the competing in the game can give to the brain - cognitive arousal is the buzz word to give you some afflatus:

'Is Sudoku seductive? Is chess sexy? Is crafting code a turn-on? To our brains, absolutely. But while most of us don't use the word "seductive" in non-sexual contexts, good game designers do. They know what turns your brain on, and they're not afraid to use it. They're experts at the art of "cognitive arousal", and if we're trying to design better experiences for our users, we should be too.

I'm not talking about using sex to arouse your brain. I'm talking about the kind of "experiential pleasure" that comes from solving a puzzle, overcoming a challenge, exploring new territory, becoming swept up in a narrative, interacting with others in a social framework, and discovering something new about yourself. I'm talking about things that engage the brain in a way that Gregory Bateson describes in The Ecology of Mind, discussing games:

"... they are important emotions that we feel and go through and enjoy and find in some mysterious ways to enlarge our spirit."'

Want more then try

Grade 5 - Will said...

I think it's a really good opportunity to develop forward thinking and strategy. I'm grateful that Harry has come in and given us his time. It's really fun!

Jake - Grade 5 said...

The program with Harry is really fun, and it's interesting to learn new moves. I've improved as a chess player since we started this program.

Sarah - Grade 5 said...

I've learned a lot of things, like forking, cancellation, and things that a lot of people probably don't know

Milly grade 5/6 Winters Flat said...

I think this program is fun and educational. It is an opportunity for other kids to learn other games. Also it adds to the educational curriculum in our school. It adds also to your knowledge and gameplaying of this particular mental excersizing sport! I personally learned a lot about chess, I learned about pins, forks, skewers etc. I also learned the reasons of these manoeuvers. I am very grateful to harry for putting this interesting site on the web so that we can give our own opinions!

Gemma grade 6 said...

I think chess is fun. I have never played chess before and now I know how to play. One thing I've learned is how to add the chess pieces together, for example, the pawn is 1, the queen is 9 and the bishop is 3.

Gemma grade 6 said...

I think chess is fun. I have never played chess before and now I know how to play. One thing I've learned is how to add the chess pieces together, for example, athe pawn is 1, the queen is 9 and the bishop is 3.

Anonymous said...

My name is William and I love chess, I am from Caststlmaine and Harry is our tutor.I think chess promotes good forward thinking skills and deductive and logical reasoning.