24 November, 2007

THE AUSTRALIAN 24/11/07: Schools make the move to chess. By Justine Ferrari

NO longer the secret, dusty passion of nerdy types that live in the school library, chess is now the fastest growing sport in the nation's schools.

Even members of the footy team play chess these days.

The national school chess competition has grown exponentially over the past five years, by 40 to 50 per cent every year, with some competitors as young as five.

Other schools are taking chess out of the lunch hour and integrating it into their maths classes for the strategic thinking and problem-solving skills the game fosters.

Brighton Grammar School in Melbourne prides itself on being a chess school, and is currently leading the national competition with players like nine-year-old Isaac Ng.

Chess has been part of the school for about 15 years and sets are provided to encourage the students to play it at lunchtime or after school, including an outdoor set with large pieces.

Director of community education John Phillips said chess had shed its nerdy image at the school, with boys of all interests playing it, including the sporting types.

"Partly that's due to the success the school has had in chess competitions in the past few years," Mr Phillips said.

In the Castlemaine area in central Victoria, a program integrating chess into maths lessons for Year 6 students has been running for the past two years and is taught in about 12 local primary schools and Castlemaine Secondary College. Co-creator Steve Carroll said it was teaching students a way of thinking mathematically and confidence to approach tricky problems rather than actual mathematical knowledge.

"Many of the teachers have been surprised because they assumed the kids who were smart would be good at chess but the kids excelling in chess are different to the ones excelling in maths.

"It's creating success for low-achieving kids and having a profound effect on their attitudes to school and maths," Mr Carroll said.

The National Interschool Chess Championships, to be held next month, are organised by Chess Kids, a company that markets recreational and educational chess programs to school.

It was started about 10 years ago by chess enthusiast David Cordover, who said school chess had exploded in the past four or five years, which he attributed to the greater value placed on intelligence in the community.

"People see all these internet billionaires and think being a computer geek isn't so bad after all," he said.

"People know that we're in a knowledge economy and kids have to do well at school."

14 November, 2007

My Brilliant Brain- National Geographic Documentary

My Brilliant Brain is a 3-part series examining the concept of genius- and putting forward the notion that genius is created through perserverence and hard work.

The first episode, screened in Australia last Friday on Pay TV, traced the story of Grandmaster Susan Polgar, who was bought up by her psychologist father as an experiment to prove that, if trained properly, a female can be as competitve on the chess board as any male. In the 1970's this was radical thinking as no female could get close to the top 600 male players in the world.

Some of Susans better party tricks include playing an opponent over the phone- and beating them- without being able to see a chess board. Or, sitting outside a cafe, truck drives past in peak hour traffic with a chess board painted on the side. She gets a three second glance, then places 32 pieces in exactly the same configuration on a chess board in front of her!

Computer animation explains how Polgars brain is different from mine or Sam Grumonts, by using the face recognition part to identify millions of chess combinations.

If you want to watch the 46 minute doco on-line, click here.

09 November, 2007

The 'J' Factor

Mark Johansson has ‘gone the extra yard’ this year with chess coaching on the junior campus of Castlemaine Secondary College. And the tournament results have been rewarding.

Twice a week, for the whole year, Johansson’s voice booms over the lunchtime announcements: : “CHESSSSSSS……. IS……ONNNNNN….….IN …..LAWWWSON….. HAAAALL!” where the ‘true believers’ refine their skills in a relaxed and informal environment. But, on the tournament circuit it’s a different story.

On August 16 a team competed at Bendigo where they won their age division and finished third overall behind Red Cliffs Secondary College seniors and Bendigo Senior Secondary College.

The troupe ventured over to Ballarat in early September, where they won not only their age group (junior secondary) but won the open secondary division also. Out of 50 students the team monopolised individual placings earning 14 of the top 20 spots.

In the September holidays, Mark and Harry took 6 students to the Victorian Youth Masters. The best finisher was Shay Keillor-Reed, coming third in his age category.

Hungry for match practice, Johansson organised a tournament at CSC Junior Campus where players ventured over from Maryborough. Again, Johansson’s team won their category.

Having now qualified 10 players for the State Finals they finishied a creditable ninth in Victoria. Shay Keillor-Reed finished 16th and Max Nanchman finished 20th out of the state’s elite 110 players.

Johansson was upbeat: “These guys were great- they are only in yr 7 but were competing against yr 8’s and 9’s. The next few years should see our school perform really well.”

As recognition to our cluster’s commitment to promoting chess, the junior campus has been given a ‘wild-card entry’ into the National Interschool Championships to be held in Melbourne in December.

Overall Mark, a great years work!

05 November, 2007

Sam Grumont interviews Ross Allengame

It's stalwarts like Ross Allengame who make Chess-Squared successful. Here, the Castlemaine Primary School teacher talks to Sam Grumont about his recent success in our cluster tournament and the benefits of chess in his classroom.

Sam: what is your reaction to your kids winning the chess tournament?

Ross: I was very, very pleased with the way they performed. I was a bit worried about round 5 as they all had one defeat by then but they managed wins in the next two rounds.

Sam: are they all grade 4 students?

Ross: the majority are grade 4 with 4 grade 5 kids and two grade 6 kids. Oscar Black won the boys champion, he’s a quiet achiever, and he only started playing chess this year. He plays his father at home and me at lunchtimes quite often, taking notes and participated in chess seminars during last holidays.

Sam: what do you attribute the success and enthusiasm of the kids in playing chess?

Ross: probably how you set the room up and what you are really trying to achieve with the game of chess. Are you trying to achieve a passive sort of game or are you really making it a game of war where there is a bit of competition to see who can actually win? If so who is going to win on points, going to win on time, and who’s going to be king of the heap?

Sam: Can you tell us a little about the tables and the round robin competition?

Ross: That has provided a focus for everyone to come back after ten weeks to see where they are up to, making sure they are here on a Thursday to make sure they don’t go down in points and also giving those people who are really good that keen eyes like who’s coming up to beat them and working out tactics for who to play to get more points in the game.

Sam: some kids have surprised you this year?

Ross: I’ve got a lot of troubled children in my room. They’ve had a lot of behaviour problems, a lot of issues at home, a lot of personal issues, but chess has been a way of keeping them concentrated over a period of time. They’ve actually concentrated more with chess and pass that back into the classroom with their ordinary work, keeping things a lot quieter, concentrating and not annoying other kids in the room.

Sam: Finally what pieces of advice do you have for someone setting up chess for the first time?

Ross: keep it simple. I’d probably do something similar to my dungeons to warlords system for teaching chess and then I’d probably go into a competition scenario where there is a round robin or a day chess competition. You don’t need a lot of knowledge with chess, I can play only a little above kids chess but a little bit of extra help with expertise as we have with the chess tutors, can be very handy. It’s a learning curve for you as a teacher.

27 September, 2007

A message to CISCCON from Harry Poulton

Harry Poulton is one of our tutors, and the driving force behind the Chess-Squared Program.

A mastery learner is one who perseveres and doesn't give up. Let's just say this video is a victory for man over technology!

09 September, 2007

Aberdeen CISCCON Report

It seems strange travelling halfway around the world, to participate in something related to your work, only to fly home again before you feel you can write about it. The whole Scotland thing was simply amazing: a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The night before the conference there was a dinner at The StageDoor Restaurant in Aberdeen.

The luck of the draw at the restaurant table seatings was interesting. The 3 aussies were surrounded by Chess Grandmasters with lots of banter about rankings, ratings and who the next big thing in chess would be. (It wont be an aussie).

Sam Grumont saved the night. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear his stories about China and America that I’ve heard a 100 times - but they were an absolute bloody lifesaver.

It seems the conference had two sub-cultures: the educators and the chess-elite. Educators can see the benefits of chess, while the chess-elite want chess in schools but don’t understand the subtleties to make that happen. So it was a fascinating mix filled with mutual respect and sharing of knowledge.

But the tide turned the morning of the conference, when conference organiser Dodd Forest informed us the Vice Chancellor of the University wanted to talk to us specifically about our project. It seems Aberdeen University prides itself on all things Innovative and Enterprising- words used in the description of our presentation.

When the conference started we felt back in our comfort zone.

Janet Shucksmith, from Teeside University, started the conference with her presenation about ethical issues involved with children and educational research.Ferdinand Gobet presented his research into brain studies and the chess player.

Susan Polgar, bought up as an experiment by her father to prove genius can be created, told her amazing life story, followed by Fritz Gaspard who co-ordinates the $4million Chess In The Schools Program in New york.

Day 2 saw Virginia Morrow, from University of London, kick things off with a presentation about Social Capital, that had elements of CSC’s Enterprise Education Project, and resonated big-time with Chess-Squared. After our presentation on Day 2, Virginia came up and said how excited she was schools in Australia were involved with building Social Capital.

The final presenation, and one of the most interesting was from Fernando Moreno (pictured with Steve Tobias), who uses chess as a tool for counselling and well-being. I’ll be doing a separate post exploring some of Fernandos work.
Apart from the conference itself, the hospitality was par excellence. It left you with a great endorsement for any country you visit: what a great place, and what great people.
It will be interesting to see what projects spin off from the conference. Informal conversations indicate people from Aberdeen Uni (Scotland), Belfast Uni (Ireland), Turin Univesity (Italy) and programs in America are interested in developing some sort of collaboration.

07 September, 2007

National Literacy and Numeracy Week Award Ceremony

On the Tuesday 4th of September the Mt Alexander School Cluster Chess/Numeracy contingent met at Castlemaine Railway Station to travel to the Melbourne Zoo to collect a ‘National Numeracy Award’ for the chess squared program.

Leeane Preece, Liz Granger (acting principal Winters’ Flat P.S.), Harry Poulton (chess tutor), Paige McDonald (year 6 student Winters’ Flat P.S) and Shay Kielor-Reed (CSC jun campus) were there to represent our Castlemaine Secondary College and our primary schools.

It was an enjoyable trip, with Leeanne having organized everything in advance, we arrived on time at the Zoo. Shay and Paige were mesmerized by all the possibilities to explore the animal kingdom offered by the venue. We spent about twenty minutes wandering about the zoo and our two young chess aficionados got to meet the lions and an assortment of exotic creatures.

When we entered the actual conference venue were greeted by a rather loud gentleman on stilts, and dressed in a coat covered in numbers, who took an instant interest in our little group, and on the other side of the entrance was a fellow similarly dressed, and riding a one wheel bike.

Inside the conference hall the festive atmosphere and humor was maintained by a remarkably amusing compare who kept us in fits of laughter with his one-liners, often at the expense of the audience and the prize winners. His humor was light hearted, witty and fun with impeccable timing.

In all it was a wonderful celebration to recognise what we have achieved, through community collaborations, in such a short space of time.

01 September, 2007

Postcards from ABERDEEN Scotland

A message from Susan Polgar

We have had technology hassles so have not been able to bring updates from this amazing conference in Aberdeen.
This has really bought together a global context of goodwill by people wanting to improve education through chess.
Susan Polgar very kindly signed pictures for each of our primary schools and each of our tutors. And here's the picture to prove it.
As usual, Steve and Sam are hard at work in the background.
These links from Susans blog are stories from the conference.

Conference dinner

Supporting Chess-Squared

In action!

29 August, 2007

Postcard from Scotland

Its been a constant case of ‘the chords have got the better of me’. It seems at every turn, a battery is flat, the wrong chord got packed, or that thing I disgarded at the last minute, I wish I hadn’t!

The three amigos caught up with Harry on Saturday, hours before our flight, to hand him a hard copy of our presentation……just because it seemed the right thing to do. Sitting in the courtyard of Saffs waxing lyrical about the finer points of our talk and program, I flicked the switched and asked Harry for an impromptu message to send to the conference.

We are going to use this clip as a conclusion of our presentation. You can see the video on the right hand side of this page.

18 August, 2007

Counting Down......

The Chess-Squared contingent will this week be fine tuning it’s presentation for the Chess In Schools and Communities International Conference held at Aberdeen University Scotland on 27August- 2 September. Below are the 9 Keynote Presentations from a diverse and expert range of presenters:

Children’s Involvement in Education: Ethical Issues and Empowering Research Policy and Practice: Janet Shucksmith, Teesside University

What does Research into Expertise tell us about Chess Teaching and Coaching?: Ferdinand Gobet, Brunel University

 Chess and Education: the Re-creation of Learning School, Home and Community: Susan Polgar, Grandmaster and Director of SPICE at Texas Tech University & Ali Nihat Yazici, Turkish Chess Federation

 Development and Impact of Chess-in-the-Schools in New York City Public Schools: Marley Kaplan, Chess in the Schools, New York

 Children and Social Capital: Virginia Morrow, University of London

 Chess: Just a Game or a Powerful Teaching Strategy for Learning Mathematics: Dr Steve Tobias, (James Cook University, Townsville, Australia) Steve Carroll (Castlemaine Secondary College), Harry Poulton (Castlemaine Chess Club) and Sam Grumont (Castlemaine Innovations and Excellence School Cluster Coordinator)

 The Rewards of Self-Control and the Joys of Concentration: What Chess Might Teach us About Learning: Jonathan Rowson, British Chess Champion (2004 – 2006)

Children’s Health and Well Being: the Process of Mentoring and Coaching in Informal Education: Kate Philip, University of Aberdeen

 Using Chess in a Counseling/Mentoring Approach for Students : Fernando Moreno, Montgomery County Public Schools

Apart from the Keynote Presentations, there will 21 workshops presented on a range of topics related to chess and education from presenters from all around the world.

We will have highlights from the conference listed on our blog, while we're in Scotland.

12 August, 2007

National Literacy & Numeracy Week: 3rd-9th September

Last week, Castlemaine Secondary College recieved notification the CHESS-SQUARED Program is the recipient of National Numeracy Award.

Twenty-three schools across Victoria will be recognised for their significant contribution to either Literacy or Numeracy.

The CHESS-SQUARED Program sent tutors from the Castlemaine Chess Club into classrooms of 12 schools in the Mt. Alexander cluster of schools.

Leanne Preece (Principal CSC), Kevin Brown (Principal Newstead P.S), Harry Poulton (Convenor Castlemaine Chess Club) and two students will attend a ceremony at Melbourne Zoo on 4th Septmeber.

The award will be either $2000, $5000, or $10,000 and will go towards the continuation of our program. We will find out the category of award at the ceremony.

02 August, 2007

Is that a FLYING BUTTRESS I saw??

Local philanthropic organisation, GOLDEN HOPE, has made a significant donation to the youth of Mt. Alexander purchasing 3 double decker buses to be used as Youth Outreach Spaces.

GOLDEN HOPE founder, Max Lesser, says the vehicles aim to be a link with youth mental health and the local community, and has developed other teacher resources using art/ design and geometry to enhance youth wellness.

Among other things, Lesser is keen to see chess play a prominent role in activities conducted on the buses, including the unique geometrical student designs adorning the outside of the bus in chess motifs. (Max, that’s just so cooooool!!)

Year 9 students from Castlemaine Secondary College, as part of the Enterprise Education initiative, aim to have a role planning activities, promotion and co-ordination for Friday and Saturday night activities. A GOLDEN HOPE press release reads:

GOLDEN HOPE announces the purchase of our flagship, and resource gift, to Mount Alexander youth- the FLYING BUTTRESS- a 1972 model double decker bus.

The bus will be used as a mobile youth-space, meeting place, an office for youth generated issues, 'events central' and a 'go to' option on our streetscape that through its visibility and presence echo the importance to us of our youths happiness, freedoms, connectedness, and the fun and hope they epitomise as our kin.

The bus plans to be in operation before Christmas 'o7 as a regular Friday, Saturday evening feature, located in appropriate sites in central Castlemaine , as well as responding to events and needs dictated by youth and community.

Golden Hope is a Chewton based philanthropic group who:

 respond to youth self esteem and emotional health support structures, with a ‘can-do’ ethos,
 have a committment to fun, and
 support the future safe passage of youth whilst under community guardianship.

The FLYING BUTTRESS management group thank Golden Hope, Mount Alexander Shire Council, and the Castlemaine community and youth for their encouragement and are looking forward to working together 'on the buses'.

And Max, we thank you!

27 July, 2007

If first you dont succeed, try, try..................and try some more.

When we here that cliché in education, ‘lifelong learning’, what does it really mean? I’m sure it means different things to different people.

For me, it has something to do with finding things that are interesting, meaningful, and give a personal sense of joy and satisfaction, and persuing those things with a sense of passion.

The recent story of Melbourne schoolteacher, and former colleague, Lambis Englezos (pictured above) fits my definition of what lifelong learning is really about. Lambis had a penchant for war history, and in particular the little known WW1 Battle of Fromelles in France.

Without going into detail, Lambis suspected there were some unaccounted Australian soldiers, known as ‘The Missing’, buried in a pit on the fields of Fromelles.

Lambis came into work one day with an aerial photo a week after the 1916 battle. In a small corner were 8 small marks in row. They could have been anything.
That’s were they are! Lambis exclaimed.I pointed out the evidence was hardly scientific. But Lambis persisted.

6 months later he came in with another ariel photo, from different source, taken days before the battle- and sure enough the pits weren’t there.

Lambis and group of supporters put their case to the Federal Government War Historians, only to be dismissed. But Lambis persisited. Years later, he unearthed a German Red-cross account of Australian soldiers being buried at a place known as Pheasant Wood- the exact location of his aerial photos. The evidence was almost irrefutable.

Finally, he unearthed family diaries that once again made mention the mass burial at Pheasant Wood. The government assured Lambis that the bodies had been recovered in later reconnaisence to reclaim bodies from European battlefields. However, after spending 12 months searching official records, War History Unit concluded that such a recovery had never taken place.

Eventually, the Australian Government relented and in May this year hired an expert panel from Glasgow University to study the site. Their finding, released last week, suggest the site has not been disturbed since 1916, and is highly likely to be the burial place of a 162 Australian soldiers, and up to 300 British soldiers.

If so, it is the largest unmarked mass grave unearthed since WW2.

Persistence, resilience, planning, strategy, self-control………sound familiar? The very attributes we are trying to teach with chess? These are the skills young people need to be equipped with from any education, that will set the foundations for lifelong learning. And something Lambis has modelled brilliantly.

The full story can be found here.

22 July, 2007


Ethnography is an qualitative educational research method developed by anthropologists, where culture is the central construct: it is literally the description of a social group. As a process, it is the science of cultural description and represents a dynamic ‘picture’ of the way of life of some interacting social group.

A famous anthropologist observed by way of analogy, “The last thing a fish will see is water’. What may seem remarkable to a visitor from another culture may seem matter of fact to the local person.

A caricature of an ethnographer is a middle-aged anglo-saxon sitting in front of their tent diligently writing in their notebook the events of the day.

Harry has been getting students to write about their chess experiences and has collected over 100 vignettes, when compiled are building a snapshot of what’s happening with the chess program, in ways that may not at first seem obvious.
Two stories below give a really rich, or ‘thick’ description about some of the ways our chess program is impacting on students.

It would be interesting to hear people’s comments about how they interpret different aspects of the comments below.

Grade 6-girl Age 11 years old, Chewton Primary School, Mt Alexander School Cluster, Central Victoria. Came running up to when I arrived to tutor at Chewton Primary School, and she was overjoyed and bursting to tell about her victory over her step dad

(In her own words).
I play chess at home with my step dad and we played for three hours like a footy game. I beat him! It was a long tough game. After I won my mum said you were beaten by an 11 year old girl and my stepdad said, “I want a re-match!!!” I think he was embarrassed. Chess teaches me to build strategy. When I played my step dad he like pretended he had a plan but he didn’t. So I was able to take his queen.
I like playing chess in school it is fun. It has made me think about what can happen if I make a wrong move and a right move. I think about where I am going to move and if I move there what will happen. I play chess with my brother and sister.

Grade 6-boy Age 12 years old, Chewton Primary School, Mt Alexander School Cluster, Central Victoria. Has a history of low performance and has started to shine with the advent of the chess program.

(In his own words)
I like to play chess. It is the best strategy game I have played. It is challenging playing Harry and my Dad. My Great Grand Dad was a good chess player. He died three months after I was born.
Chess has improved my mind in my football with the strategies with the ball. It has improved the way I work out how to tackle, and the position of people and things. I like to set up the footy team like a chess game when I am captain.
My Dad and I play chess a lot. We play about six games a week. He beats me all the time. That is annoying. I don’t play any other games except kicking the football. Chess and football are my main interests.
I like chess better than maths but chess is pretty much maths. Chess is maths with the points and strategies. Chess has improved my thinking skills in pretty much every way. My concentration has improved. With maths chess helped me a lot. My grades were down before I started playing chess and now they are a lot higher- puzzles, numbers.
When I lose I feel I need to get better. I think this person is better than me I had better train and get better. I set goals. My goal is to be one of the worlds best chess players. Chess is the best subject I do at school. Maths, science and sport are my other favourite subjects. I like chess better than computer games because computer games tell you what to do but chess doesn’t which makes it more challenging.

18 July, 2007

PERFORMANCE versus MASTERY: a preview of our presentation in Scotland

One of our assumptions is that a key determinate of the apparent lack of engagement is the motivation of the students. In this study we sought to gain some insights into factors that might influence the nature of the needs, goals and ultimately the decisions the students make about their participation in the learning of chess and subsequently mathematics.

The underlying model was derived from the work of Dweck (2000) who identified two perspectives on intelligence. One is a fixed perspective of intelligence entitled entity theory in which people believe that their intelligence is predetermined at birth and remains fixed through life.

Dweck suggested that students who believe in the entity view require easy successes to maintain motivation, and see challenges as threats. The alternate perspective is where students see intelligence as malleable or incremental and they can change their intelligence and/or achievement by manipulating factors over which they have some control. Students with such incremental beliefs often choose to sacrifice opportunities to look smart in favour of learning something new. Not only their goals but also their needs regulate particular outcomes.

Directly connected to these views of intelligence are the ways that students describe their own needs and goals. Dweck suggested that entity “theorists” have performance related goals, and rely for success on tasks that offer limited challenge. When experiencing difficulties, the model suggests that such students lose confidence in themselves, tend to denigrate their own intelligence, exhibit plunging expectations, develop negative approaches, have lower persistence, and deteriorating performance. Such students particularly seek positive judgments from others and avoid negative ones.

Incremental “theorists”, according to Dweck, have mastery oriented goals and tend to have a hardy response to failure and remain focused on mastering skills and knowledge even when experiencing challenge. Mastery oriented people do not blame others for threats, do not see failure as an indictment on themselves, rather they hold learning goals which are to increase their competence when confronted with difficulty. Confidence in their own ability does not make a difference to students who see intelligence as incremental and success is not needed to build mastery oriented objectives.

Dweck argued that an entity view of intelligence leads students to focus mainly on performance goals whereas an incremental perspective allows students to focus on mastery oriented goals. In other words, the students’ regulation of their decisions and actions is a response to how they define their needs and how these define their goals.

It is interesting to consider the implications of this for teaching. Students who have performance goals could be a direct result of significant adults such as parents and teachers who tended to exaggerate the positives and protect them from negative information.

Dweck claimed that, by their actions, some teachers teach students that they are entitled to a life of easy low effort successes, and argued that this is a recipe for anger, bitterness and self doubt. Dweck suggested that some teachers respond to students experiencing difficulty by providing easier tasks, the net effect of which is to create a climate in which challenges are feared rather than addressed.

Dweck (2000) argued that teachers can teach self regulatory behaviours such as decoding tasks, perseverance, seeing difficulties as opportunities, and learning from mistakes. This capacity for teachers to enhance positive self-regulatory responses is evident in quite separate research strands on self fulfilling prophecy (e.g., Brophy, 1983), and motivation (e.g., Middleton, 1995).

11 July, 2007

More to maths than IQ

A recent study published in Scientific America has found that intelligence, measured by IQ scores, may not be an indicator of students ability to learn maths.

The study identifies a concept called executive functioning- made up of two skills, ‘working memory’ and ‘inhibitory control’ that when combined have shown students perform better in maths results, rather than students who just have a high IQ.

Working memory is the ability to keep information or rules in mind while performing tasks, while inhibitory control is the ability to control impulses and focus on a task at hand.

It seems to us that regular chess play combines both of these skills, working memory and inhibitory control, and may in fact provide a hint to the links between maths and chess we are interested in investigating.

The notion of impulse control is also of interest to us and has application for boys in education, who often struggle to control impulses in traditional classroom environments and can present as behaviour problems.

A full abstract of the article can be found here.

16 June, 2007


I keep coming back to the concept of Multiple Approaches.

I first came across the idea of Multiple Approaches in a workshop called Generating Genius- a program by Di Flemming and Micheal Demkov of 9 frameworks that when combined mimic genius thinking and create a culture of creativity.

A GOOGLE SEARCH shows this idea of using a variety of approaches to solve problems and create new thinking and learnings is becoming commonplace in many fields including philosophy, educational reform, slowing the spread of HIV, computer software design.

If we look how our chess program developed we can see the pattern of Multiple Approaches once again making an appearance.

If we look at ‘Chess and Numeracy’, then........we have a chess a numeracy program.

But, when we apply Multiple Approaches suddenly our project becomes multi-layed, textured and interesting. We are starting to see avenues to explore other elements of the benefits of chess including:
 Chess and Literacy
 Chess and Giftedness
 Chess and Social interaction
 Chess and Well-being
 Chess and Social Inclusion
 Chess and Improved Transition
 Chess and Community Partnerships
 Chess and Informal Learning
 Chess Therapy
 Chess as a tool for improving family dynamics
 Chess as a pedagody for increasing school connectedness
 Chess and mentoring

I've noticed a pattern with Multiple Approaches in a school program development setting- they work best when combined with Continuous Development. That is, within an environment when ideas continually grow and evolve slowly over time.

And thats another thing that keeps popping up in the blogosphere, the idea of 'slow pedagogies'. But thats another topic!

06 June, 2007


The Chess-Squared Project is honoured to be invited as a Keynote Presenter to the Chess In Schools and Communities International Conference held in Aberdeen Scotland in Aug/Sep 2007.

The University of Aberdeen's School of Education, Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Junior Chess, in alliance with a number of National Chess Federations,are hosting this international conference which will explore and share ideas emerging from recent academic and practitioner research, project evaluation and policy in the field of chess development in education.

The main aims of the conference will be to explore the particular contribution of chess play within the school and home environment to the development of thinking skills, health and well being and the creative imagination of children and young people.

There is an impressive and diverse range of Keynote Speakers covering a fascinating scope of topics related to chess and children’s learning and well-being.

Conference organisers seemed keen on a number of aspects of our project including, in particular, how we managed to mainstream chess within a maths curriculum.

Dr. Steve Tobias and Sam Grumont will be presenting a paper titled Chess: Just a game, or a powerful strategy for teaching mathematics, and I’ll be running a workshop titled Chess and Numeracy Benchmarks.Our next blog entry will publish our abstract and full details of the conference can be found here.

Its worth a look.

29 May, 2007

Meeting the tutors(3): Greg Smith

My name is Greg Smith and I’m a chess tutor. Thanks Harry and Steve for asking me to join the team.

Unlike Harry I came late to Chess. I played a few games as a child and luckily remembered the moves when I first attended the Castlemaine Chess Club. There I enjoyed the company, wisdom, humour and coaching of the astute.

I became a father in 2002 (I now have a boy and a girl) and a teacher in 2003. I had taught SOSE, ICT and Art, previously to tackling Chess. The student’s enthusiasm and engagement with chess overwhelmed me. Truly amazing! Chess works.

I distinctly remember a point when 30 children all pondered studiously silent, each brain computing at the speed of light. This despite my preferred method of encouraging banter, conversation and discussion. I have derived happiness reaffirming that children enjoy thinking.

I have been privileged to attend 5 schools in Mt Alexander Shire and I enjoy the diverse challenges available. All teachers have been warm and supportive and speak of positive results. Large, small and mixed age classes all require different approaches. I am often asked about gender bias and I haven’t observed any. Students love to count up the pieces. Whether it is shown that chess improves maths or not I remain convinced that chess in schools, particularly at upper Primary level, is eminently beneficial.

Harry sums up chess so perfectly I will simply quote him here.
“Research, experience and observation have led me to believe that chess is an excellent pedagogical tool which improves concentration, impulse control and accountability, cultivates good sportspersonship and social interaction.”

With chess, a novice can play an experienced player, beautifully expressed by an Indian proverb, "Chess is a lake in which a gnat may sip and an elephant may bathe."

(Meet our other tutors here and here- scroll down a bit!

20 May, 2007

Dancing with Data- Part 1

The graph above of Pat Maths results across the cluster provides a snapshot of what has happened with numeracy Mt. Alexander schools in 2005 and 2006. It is difficult to draw conclusions from the line graph.

But when we combine stanines into low(1+2+3), medium(4+5+6), and high (7+8+9), and plot a column graph clearer and interesting trends begin to emerge.

So, what can we say?
It appears there has been some improvement in numeracy across the cluster. Although, we have to be careful here. We’re comparing two different groups, and there are no isolated or control variables. On their own we can’t be too confident of these results meaning anything definate.
Harry and I have enrolled in the Graduate Certificate for Educational Research Methods and are understanding the fascinating complexities of educational research- a unique blend of scientific(quantitative) and humanistic(qualitative) approaches.
But, here is the strength of the humanistic approach: these graphs have ‘shone a torch’ on an area for further investigation.
By conducting interviews, compiling vignettes, recording teacher observation, parent comments, & tutor observations we might begin to draw a picture about what specifically in our program is happening with student learning. It’s often through qualitative approaches we find the unexpected, discover both subtleties and complexitites within education.
And from that, ascertain what contribution regular chess playing has on learning outcomes.
The moral to the story: its not always the graph that tells us entirely what’s happening, but understanding what’s happening in classrooms that gave us the graph in the first place.

08 May, 2007

Rhonda Galbally(AO) says........

A recent editorial from Rhonda Galbally AO,(CEO of Our Community) discussed a new report by Professor Tony Vinson claiming Australia’s economic boom has failed to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Australians leaving them locked into communities of deep disadvantage.

Galbally writes: 'A confluence of research from around the world has found that the greatest risk factor for virtually all illnesses – not only the old-fashioned communicable diseases, but also mental illness and non-communicable illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and cancer – is social and economic inequity. A community’s resistance to these challenges, however – its resilience – depends on what Professor Vinson measures as “social cohesion”.

Professor Lisa Berkman (Harvard School of Public Health) and Emeritus Professor Len Syme (School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley) trace this social cohesion to such human factors as a sense of belonging and hope. Important, too, is a feeling that one is able to control one’s life and participate socially in a meaningful way. All these factors are boosted by engagement in community activities, and community activities thrive where there is a rich culture of voluntary associations.

The lack of community infrastructure in disadvantaged areas results in a lack of opportunity to build ‘social cohesion’ and a sense of belonging by participating in community groups. So lack of community infrastructure is a significant risk factor for destroying resilience in individuals.

Strengthening local community infrastructure is vital because, according to Vinson,

“Building a sense of belonging to one's locality and increasing neighbours' interaction with one another can go a long way to shielding children and families from the full impact of social disadvantage.”

Research from around the world shows that belonging to community groups reduces crime and violence, increases respect for diversity, reduces youth suicide, and improves health. A doubling of the rate of membership in community organisations has the potential to reduce violent crime by up to a third and property crime by up to 10%.

To improve health, wellbeing and resilience these disadvantaged areas need more sports groups, more parent groups, more environmental groups, more disability groups, more older people’s groups, more car clubs, more associations of all kinds, addressing all interests and needs. In disadvantaged areas the quantity and quality of this infrastructure is significantly weaker.

As well, research in the new field of social epidemiology shows that communities that have a sense of control over the design, development and governance of that part of the community sector that delivers their services (e.g. emergency relief, disability services, aged care) are socially and medically healthier than communities where services are imposed through a top-down approach.

While the emphasis on building of community infrastructure is unquestionably necessary, by itself it won’t, of course, be sufficient – as Vinson says, “Such building of connections between the residents of disadvantaged areas needs to be accompanied by the creation of new opportunities in education, training and employment that open up life opportunities.”

There are a number of interesting issues in this abstract in relation to our chess program. What started as a simple classroom activity is providing an opportunity to improve childrens health across a rural community by providing access to volunteer programs, adult mentors & participation activities for young children and strengthening links with community organisations all, as Vinson desires, within a framework of education.


(Reprinted with permission from Our Community Matters. The full article can be found here.)

28 April, 2007

SFYS-School Focussed Youth Service. Gavan Thomson - Co-ordinator

The School Focused Youth Service (SFYS) is pleased to be, once again, one of the contributing funders to the CHESS-SQUARED project across the schools in the Mt Alexander cluster.

The SFYS is all about promoting the mental wellbeing of young people, in particular young people who are at risk of social isolation, depression or school disengagement.

Each year the SFYS brokerage fund supports a number of projects and programs that aim to make schools safer , more inclusive, more supportive and more respectful places, and places where students can connect with each other, with other schools and with the community in many different positive ways.

The CHESS-SQUARED project is a great example of an unusual and innovative activity that includes a wide range of children of different abilities. It helps develop their cognitive skills in an interactive and social way and opens the door for them to interact with adult mentors, community organisations and the whole world of chess.

In particular, it introduces young people to the social, interpersonal and cultural enrichment that chess may bring.

Gavan Thomson
School Focused Youth Service
-across the Macedon Ranges, Mt Alexander & Central Goldfields Shires
Cobaw Community Health
PO Box 146 47 High Street Kyneton 3444

21 April, 2007


Welcome to CHESS-SQUARED for 2007. A lot has happened since our conclusion in 2006.

Harry, and a loyal band of parents, took 24 students to Melbourne in December and participated in the Victorian Youth Championships. One student, on the train ride home after two nights in Melbourne said to Harry “I’ve only ever done two good things at school, the year7 camp, and this. And I liked this a lot more!’ A great endorsement.

We welcome new tutor, Peter O’Connor, who is working at Maldon and Newstead. Peter joins local chess stalwarts Ron Moore, Greg Smith, John Lavery, and Sir Harry Poulton.

We will bring interviews onto our blog, so we can get to know all tutors- not just the ones coming into our own classes.

I’m just completing a submission for a National Numeracy Award, that will summarise our program and what was achieved in two terms in 2006. The Awards will be announced in Literacy and Numeracy Week in early September 2007 that receives high exposure nationwide. A strong feature of our program are the partnerships we have with Castlemaine Community House, School Focussed Youth Service, James Cook University, and of course the Innovations and Excellence Program. Fingers crossed our program gets some recognition.

There is presently a world-wide ground-swell of Chess In Schools progams.
When Susan Polgar offered a free 30 lesson chess curriculum on her blog, amazingly, 5000 requests came from all around the globe! I’m still processing the implications of that, not just for chess, but to highlight the power and potential influence of blogging in terms of linking classrooms with the global community.

In September, there will be an International Chess In Schools Conference in Aberdeen Scotland. A team from Mt. Alexander is examining the possibility of visiting that conference. We had initial conversations with conference organisers, sent them our blog address and received a reply stating ‘…….your program covers many themes of our conference, in a way we have not yet been able to do yet in Scotland’.

But most importantly, we are continually grappling with our ‘core business’: to find ways to increase exposure of chess to children, innovative ways to use chess as a tool for maths learning, and to increase engagement and enjoyment of schooling for young people.Stay tuned.

To pinch an appropriate quote from Kevin Brown, one of our cluster principals: May the moves be with you’. Let CHESS-SQUARED 2007 begin!

Steve Carroll

UPDATE: A recent post on Susan Polgars blog states
'Since I offered the free chess curriculum from the Susan Polgar Foundation on my blog a few months ago, I have received almost 25,000 requests from coaches, teachers, parents and educators, etc., from over 85 different countries.'