Location: Bowdoin / McKeen Center / Activity / 2009 / Courses and Research: Champion Explores Impact of Chess on Classroom Learning

Courses and Research: Champion Explores Impact of Chess on Classroom Learning

Story posted April 16, 2009

In the fall and spring semesters Jason Spector ’09 engaged in a hands-on independent study project of teaching chess to students at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham which benefits local kids while helping him better understand teaching methods and the impact that the game of chess can have on student learning.  As Maine's state chess champion two years in a row, he has been able to combine his passion for the game with academic research that involves a community application.

Spector, a Government major and Education Studies minor, has worked with Doris Santoro (Education) on the project.  Coupling research with service, he developed an extensive literature review on chess teaching methodology and the effects of chess on student learning.  “Jason’s careful attention to previous studies and approaches has shaped how he developed curriculum and the measures he is using to assess the program” notes Santoro. 

Over the course of this year, Spector has met with multiple small groups of students (ranging from four to six students per group) once a week during the school day for lessons, instruction, and game-playing.  Concurrently, Spector measures students’ grades and test scores, and analyzes teacher evaluations to determine whether participating in a chess mentorship program impacts students’ academic performance and classroom engagement.

Sandra Trach, principal of Woodside school, notices the difference.  "The students tremendously look forward to Jason Spector's chess project.  This project has meant much more to our learners than mastering the skillfulness of chess.  It has led to mentorship and high aspirations, which have profound and lasting meaning to our students.  I am confident that Jason Spector's instruction has positively impacted students' learning and social-emotional abilities equally."


Jason Spector, Chess Teacher and Mentor, reflects upon his project

“Having played in chess tournaments since I was a small child, the positive impacts of chess had been an accepted part of my life for nearly 15 years.  I had not however, before this year, considered the possibility of chess as an academic subject or even as an enrichment activity to be taught during the school day.

So, when I decided last summer to casually research the impact of chess upon students, I was amazed to find that not only is there a great deal of evidence supporting chess as an excellent mechanism to foster critical thinking, reasoning, and numerous other skills, but, moreover, chess is an accepted part of the academic curriculum in more than twenty countries around the world!  With this information in hand, I saw an opportunity to pilot a chess mentorship program to work with children to help develop essential thinking skills in a fun, academic environment.

With one semester of the program completed and in the midst of another, challenges have not been few.  It is difficult to teach a game in a serious, academic manner to 7 year-olds.  Yet, any daily frustrations I might have experienced as a first-year teacher have been surpassed by the wonderful feedback I have received from teachers, parents, administrators and the students themselves.  This has been extremely rewarding and as I reflect upon the project, I am amazed by how much can be accomplished in such a brief time if both teacher and student are engaged and enjoy the material.

The numerous applications of the program and the fun the students and I have had in participating in this pilot program have encouraged me to expand the program.  In the future, I would love to see chess mentorship programs spread as an alternative educational model.  For now, I am thrilled to be positively impacting the educational experiences of a small number of elementary school students!”

Jason is working with the Mckeen Center and Woodside School to set up a permanent chess program using other Bowdoin students interested in teaching and mentoring. It has also been that students at Woodside school have been asking for chess sets for birthday and holiday gifts!

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"I hope to encourage students to mentally challenge themselves outside of traditional school subjects. Hopefully, even for those students who are not fully engaged by their school-time, this program offers the opportunity to seek alternative enrichment."
— Jason Spector

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