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Reaching the Next Level

The Second Koltanowski International Conference on chess and education By DR. TIM REDMAN

Anatole Hotel in Dallas, in conjunction with the National K-12 Championship. A lot has happened in the field of chess and education in the last ten years. Joseph Eberhard, in one of the two talks


in plenary session on Friday afternoon, described a key change: “Neuroscience is taking us to the next level.” He observed that cognitive neuroscience is helping us understand how people learn, but he also chal- lenged: “Can we now use neuroscience to better understand affective devel- opment?” Dr. Eberhard was one of the returning veter- ans. His talk in 2001 was on the benefit of chess instruction for economically disadvantaged children. In his talk at the one-day Chess in Education workshop held in con- junction with the U.S. Open in Oakbrook, Illinois, in 2006, his thinking had evolved. There he suggested a change in the lan- guage of the claims we are making for chess, from “chess makes you better in math, reading, etc.” to “chess develops the thinking skills that are at the founda- tion of improvement in math and reading.” At Kolty 2 he said simply: “Much has been learned about how we learn.” This discussion about neuroscience

42 Chess Life — February 2012

fter a ten-year interval, Kolty 2 was held Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19 at the Hilton

started at Kolty 1. In an essay based on their talk, William Bart and Michael Ather- ton gave an introduction to the neuroscientific basis of chess playing and provided fMRI (functional magnetic reso- nance imaging) scans that were published in the conference book, Chess and Educa- tion: Selected Essays from the Koltanowski Conference. At Kolty 2, Stephen Lipschultz spoke on “Advances in Cognitive and Neu- rosciences: the Impact on Educational Chess.” Acknowledging that he is a physi-

“More artists fail

cian not a neuroscientist, Dr. Lipschultz then proceeded to give a bravura sum- mary of the current state of cognitive neuroscience with particular emphasis on chess. Although he said that there is not much science to support our claims that chess helps with reading and math skills, he pointed to a promising area of research that could demonstrate the educational benefits of chess. Until now, the Holy Grail of research in chess and education has been the attempt

for lack of character than for lack of intelligence.” ~EZRA POUND

to find skill transfer—that learning chess will help student performance in math, reading, science, and social science. With some limited evidence to support the ben- efit of chess on reading (Margolies, Rifner) which is my own area of interest, nothing has been found to demonstrate that domain mastery in chess transfers to other aca- demic areas. Anecdotal evidence abounds and we teachers can see the benefits of chess for our students, but scientific evi- dence is lacking. So concluded several papers from both Koltanowski conferences. The United States has a proud tradition of local control of schools so research is needed to make the case for chess one school district at a time. We don’t have a national ministry of education. And yet, Dr. Lipschultz pointed out, we are con-

fronted by the absolutely terrifying data on low socio-economic status children who enter school with deficient language skills. As David Barrett pointed out in his study about “Using Chess to Improve Math Achievement for Students Who Receive Special Education Services,” the gap, as registered on the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) exam widens as time goes on. The gap between the special education students and the overall student score for math is

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