World’s first Chess and Mathematics Training Course

We held a Chess and Mathematics course after the London Chess Conference. As far as we are aware, this is the first course in the world on this fascinating topic. Those attending included primary school teachers, secondary school teachers, national chess trainers, chess tutors and those who are just interested. They came from a mix of countries including Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, England, Luxembourg and the USA. The course leader was Rita Atkins supported by John Foley. The course was a mixture of presentations and hands-on problem-solving. The material was a mixture of classic problems and a host of new exercises which the attendees enjoyed. The material covered topics which primary school children could happily deal with and extended up to the secondary school level.

Chess and mathematics is a collection of mathematical problems and games that use the chessboard and/or the chess pieces as its medium. The emphasis of the course is on problem-solving which is an explicit objective of the national curriculum for mathematics in all countries. Although a desirable objective, teachers are under pressure to get children to pass exams using standard techniques so the experience of struggling and succeeding in solving a variety of analytical problems is lost to most children. Singapore, which has become a leading maths country in the international PISA rankings, has adopted a formal problem-solving approach to school mathematics. For every problem, reflect on the solution method.

The course is unique not only in content but also in the accessories used to explain the concepts. We use presentation slides supplemented by demonstrations on a customised magnetic chess display board using coloured shapes. Each table group is supplied with coloured and numbered counters as well as handouts to complete with coloured pencils.

There are several reasons for adopting chess and mathematics exercises. Many mathematics problems can be presented on the chessboard. This suits many children who feel comfortable working with chess themes. As with all game-based learning, games, even mathematical games are fun. The major advantage for teachers is that very little chess knowledge is required – actually you don’t have to know anything about chess except how the pieces move. Ultimately the purpose of the course is to provide attendees with instructive, classic, fun problems that children enjoy.

The training course is part of the slate being offered by ChessPlus which provides education and training services on behalf of the European Chess Union (ECU). The ECU accredits the training course through the recommendation of its Education Commission which has an Academic Advisory Panel. This was a pilot course from which a great deal has been learned. It is anticipated that the Chess and Mathematics course will be rolled out across Europe. The transversal approach to chess pedagogy is that chess is used to enhance education through adding chess elements to other taught subjects. In this regard, this course is an example of a transversal course between chess and mathematics.

The topics on the course included:tailoring problems for a young audience, problem-solving techniques, maths minigames, visualising mathematics, logic puzzles and binary arithmetic. Amongst the exercises which drew animated audience interaction were Nim, Wythoff’s Game, partitioning the chessboard, counting squares and Tromino tiling.