“After several years of classroom teaching, I began to explore ‘alternate’ and more engaging ways to expand the thinking of my students. A friend and fellow teacher encouraged me to consider chess. I knew the game, didn’t play it particularly well, but enjoyed the intellectual challenges it offered. I made chess sets accessible in my classroom, dedicated time each week to teach the fundamentals to my students and gave them time to play and compete. I observed that most students had a natural curiosity and genuine desire to learn how to play and improve. They enjoyed the social and competitive elements of chess but were drawn to the mental rigour and problem-solving skills required to play. It isn’t an easy game, but it isn’t repetitive or boring either!
“I began to research the benefits of chess, specifically how chess may improve academic outcomes. Studies from around the world gave proof that chess makes kids smarter. From my research, I began to list why chess should be imbedded in the Australian National Curriculum. The list became longer and my desire to engage more students in chess grew stronger.
“Years later I travelled to countries where chess is celebrated and is taught in the classrooms. I noticed how creativity and intelligence in such nations is recognised and valued. It was exciting to me to see groups of people gathering in public spaces to play…CHESS! THAT is when I began to really appreciate the VALUE OF CHESS.
“After a year of teaching my own students, I embraced the opportunity to organise and run the chess club for the whole junior school. It started years before as a lunchtime activity where pieces and boards were smeared by lasagne and soup, or whatever the students had ordered for tuckshop that day. I renamed it Chess Academy and expended our engagement to one after-school session per week. Chess Academy soon became one of the largest extra-curricular activites in the school. The participation and success of our students in regional tournaments began to improve…dramatically, and Chess Academy continued to grow.
“When I left full-time teaching, I hoped I’d have opportunity to engage even more students in the marvellous game of chess. Fortunately, the school where I started Chess Academy wanted me to continue developing the program and I found other schools who were willing to let me direct their chess programs as well.
“I wanted to make chess accessible to all students in Toowoomba, so I started an after-school program at the City Library where we met every Wednesday for an hour. It had humble beginnings, only two students to begin with, but grew steadily that year.
“I also wanted to see students improve their skills through regular competitions in our region. My friend, who set me on this path to begin with, suggested that I start my own tournaments. So I did…but I had to change the format from ‘traditional’ chess tournaments. Now I organise chess ‘gatherings’ under the name ‘THE BIG CHESS DAY OUT’. These meetings are family orientated, fun but challenging, educational but at times silly, and competitive but friendly.
“That is the story of EDwoodUCATION’s CHESS thus far. From a single classroom to a multi-school format that is actively engaging students in chess and offering them opportunities to compete in a fun and friendly environment.
“What’s next? There are many kids who do not have the opportunity to learn to play chess or participate in tournaments, especially in rural areas and less affluent countries. There are many, particularly in the urban centres, who may benefit from the social element (or the connectivity) that is possible through chess. The future is to somehow reach out and utilise chess as a tool to build community, positively impact on individuals and to improve the learning capacity of children from near and far.”