Chess Coach Interview ~ Robin Ramson, DC Chess Girls

Chess Coach Business Interview

This spring, we had the chance to catch up with Robin Ramson, the Founder of DC Chess Girls: a Washington, D.C. based chess non-profit dedicated to encouraging more girls to play chess. When we spoke, she had just returned from a national tournament where her daughter got to compete with children from all over the country.

I know you have lots of stories about chess making a difference. Can you share one story with our readers?

The first one that comes to mind is that of a girl in our program who also participates in a school-based program. There weren’t many girls in the school-based program and the boys were much better than her when she started. Her mom said her daughter almost gave up many times, but ultimately had the courage to keep going due to her continued involvement with with DC Chess Girls. The other girls in the club were really supportive and we do a lot as a club to encourage tournament play. I think providing this kind of encouragement is essential. It takes so long time to get good at chess that recognition for effort and achievement of certain milestones can make a huge difference. I think girls respond well to people noticing their effort (not that boys don’t), so we make sure that we do just that. The other girls in our program are competitive, but they don’t participate in school programs. Even though the other kids on the school team had much higher ratings, it was this girl who ended up getting awards. In addition to the support, we’ve been lucky to have great coaching. I say ‘lucky’ because we are an all-volunteer organization and I hire only experts or above. Our coaches analyze games and provide lectures to prompt thinking about how the girls can take their games to next level. In addition to the chess improvement, the mom said her daughter has become more focused, less intimidated about taking tests, and shows more persistence when tackling difficult subjects. Continue reading “Chess Coach Interview ~ Robin Ramson, DC Chess Girls”

De-Escalating Confrontation at Chess Club

How to De-escalate Conflict in Chess Class

By Guest Blogger Coach Jay Stallings

It’s going to happen. A child will be embarrassed about losing to a younger player. A student will accuse another of cheating and you of allowing it. You will offend a student without even realizing it.
What you do next is critical!

First…What NOT to do:

  1. Lose control.
  2. Give the teacher glare
  3. Talk, talk, talk.

If you lose control of yourself, you will lose control of your class, and you will lose the respect of many of your students.

Giving the teacher glare challenges the student and the class and demonstrates that you don’t have the ability to do anything more than that. Continue reading “De-Escalating Confrontation at Chess Club”

Classroom Tips for Chess Teachers ~ Managing Varied Skill Levels

Classroom Tips for Chess Coaches Managing Diverse Skills

Teaching a class with children with different skill levels can seem quite daunting. Chess coaches facing this challenge have devised interesting tricks over the years to stimulate inexperienced students while keeping the advanced ones focused. Here are some ideas and activities that you can use to keep your classroom buzzing.

  • Focus on activities that allow those of different levels to learn different things (e.g., the Pawn Game and Domination – In the pawn game, beginning students focus on how the pieces move and capture and advanced students learn about pawn structure. In Domination, both groups improve their board visualization skills).

Continue reading “Classroom Tips for Chess Teachers ~ Managing Varied Skill Levels”

7 Benefits of Student-Made Chess Sets

Benefits of student-made chess set craft activity

When new coaches initially see the make-your-own chess set activity in our chess curriculum, their reactions are quite varied. Of course, many, particularly primary school teachers, immediately see the benefits of this craft activity.  Understandably, to some it seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It does require planning, some supplies that may not be on hand, and some mess. Others see it as a distraction from the goal of learning about chess. However, we have been including this activity in our programs for over seven years and it never disappoints, particularly for students in primary grades.  Here’s why we think it is worth the time, trouble and mess – all of which can be minimized (more on that in our upcoming how-to article): Continue reading “7 Benefits of Student-Made Chess Sets”

Easy Ways Use Algebraic Notation to Boost Learning in the Classroom

Tips for using and learning from chess notation.

Teach your students how to take short algebraic notation. You can use the image below as a reference. Once your students are familiar with the basics, it’s time to practice.

One great way to reinforce what they have learned is by reviewing famous games.  You can start with one of the most famous chess games of all time, The Opera Game (scroll down for the moves), but more are easy to find via a quick internet search. You can even find games that are analyzed/annotated by strong chess players to help you guide discussion as you play through games. Play through the chosen game on a demonstration board or projector while your students notate the game.  This allows them to practice notation without having to simultaneously think about their game.  It also makes it easy for you, their classmates or volunteers to check their work.  As a nice side effect, they will be exposed to the kinds of moves made by strong players.
Continue reading “Easy Ways Use Algebraic Notation to Boost Learning in the Classroom”

How a Simple but Powerful Chess Tool Can Teach Independent Learning, Game Improvement & More

What kids can learn from writing down their games

Chess notation is like a music score for chess. When a game is recorded using chess notation it is forever saved for review by the player, friends, coaches or future generations. Thanks to notation, we can replay games from as far back as two or three hundred years ago. We can relive the moment, imagining how the great players of the past thought and felt as they played the classics that would stand the test of time. We can experience the highs and lows of a game and vicariously feel the impact of each thrilling victory, crushing defeat or fighting draw.  The game score is like instant replay in sports, allowing the student to dissect the game down to its smallest detail. This can be very exciting, but, most importantly, it is also a phenomenal learning tool. Continue reading “How a Simple but Powerful Chess Tool Can Teach Independent Learning, Game Improvement & More”

Using Music in the Chess Classroom

Why music?  These days, kids seem to be always plugged in to something…music, video games, computers.  When permitted, many will listen to music while studying or playing chess.   The adults in their lives often debate with them about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of listening to music while trying to concentrate. Researchers have found mixed results when looking at characteristics of music (number of beats per minute, for example) that impact people in specific ways.  It seems that music may be able to help improve focus, problem solving, stress levelcreativity, behavior, and energy level.  Since students are better able to learn and remember when they are in a positive emotional state, music may offer an additional benefit as a tool to influence mood.

Music Experiments in Chess Class?

How to listen:  While scientists continue to examine the issue, you can help students make academic connections by conducting experiments  Continue reading “Using Music in the Chess Classroom”

How Allowing More Movement in the Classroom Can Benefit Your Chess Lessons

Why move?  Movement increases blood flow to the brain and improves attention.  It stimulates the release of chemicals in the body (such as noradrenalin and dopamine) that help kids feel good, increases energy levels, and (the icing on the cake) improves memory.  For young children and those with certain learning styles, movement in the classroom can make the difference between success and failure.  Some children seem to NEED to move in order to learn, but it can facilitate learning for all children.  Besides, movement can make learning more fun, and who doesn’t learn better that way?!

Why incorporate more movement into your chess classes?

How to move: There are many ways to incorporate movement into a chess lesson.  When you first start introducing more movement into your Continue reading “How Allowing More Movement in the Classroom Can Benefit Your Chess Lessons”

Encouraging Active Participation in Chess Class

Introduction:  Every teacher or coach knows that some kids are eager to participate in group discussions while others are more likely to hang back.  Calling on different students can help, but it also risks making some kids uncomfortable.  Most of us can remember occasions where we were terrified that the teacher would call on us, or the sinking feeling and embarrassment of not knowing the answer when we were called on.  For most students, chess is a voluntary endeavor, so we are particularly motivated to do what we can to make the class a positive experience.  So, how can we encourage active participation while reducing the probability of negative experiences?  Here are a few ideas.  If you have others, we would love to hear them.  If you try any of these, we would love to hear how it goes.

Encouraging active engagement in the classroom

Automatic Pauses:  Give an automatic 30-60 second pause after asking a question.  You don’t need to do this every time, of course. Develop a Continue reading “Encouraging Active Participation in Chess Class”