Schools are discovering that chess develops elementary students’ critical thinking skills.
Margot Drayton’s fourth-grade class knows what to do if a bishop is coming after their king — they call in the queen.
“The queen is like a police officer,” Eduard Zelkind, a chess master, explained to the class of Vista View Elementary students last week. “The queen can solve your problem very quickly and take that guy out.”
Zelkind, a Russian native, has been teaching chess to Twin Cities students for more than a quarter century. Much of that time has been spent in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools where chess has been part of the curriculum since 1987 and every fourth-grader learns the game.
Chess helps develop students’ patience, critical thinking and problem solving skills, Zelkind says after discussing with students whether they should attack, defend or evade their opponents.
“This game is about depth of knowledge,” Zelkind says of players being able to predict their opponents’ strategies. “Whoever sees further, sees more of the possibilities.”
Drayton has taught at Vista View for 14 years and says the week students spend learning chess from Zelkind has become a “rite of passage” for fourth-graders. They start with the history of the game and progress from basic moves to advanced strategies.
“So many of them have never played the game before,” Drayton said. “This is an action packed week, to say the least.”
Keyana Law and Angeles Vasquez-Diaz, both 9, had never played chess until they started learning from Zelkind. The girls said they enjoyed the game and were considering joining one of the district’s chess clubs that have about 400 members in total.
“I’d like to learn more about the pieces and what they do,” said Law, who joked that her queen resembled a bird bath. “It’s cool.”
Baylor Limberg is already a member of a club and has played chess since he was a kindergartner. Limberg played a match with Malachi Jordan and both said they liked the strategy the game required.
“It’s awesome because it is so complex,” Jordan said.
Brian Ribnick, a math teacher at Metcalf Junior High who oversees district chess clubs, said Burnsville is the only district in Minnesota that has a chess master working with students. District chess teams compete locally and on the national scene with a group of students participating in a contest in Nashville.
District leaders have continued with the program because it often translates into improved achievement in students’ other academic pursuits.
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