When 7 and 8 year olds are intent on plotting moves on a chessboard, it is definite proof that a chess curriculum teaches strategy, problem solving, and analytical thinking.
It isn’t just play for students in one of Florida’s larggest school districts. All 34,000 second and third graders in Broward County Public Schools are enrolled in the weekly lessons. The sixth biggest school district in the nation is one of the largest chess curriculum experiments in the country.
Mark Strauss, Broward’s director of school performance and accountability, explained that chess teaches analytical skills disguised as a game.”Chess is the means to an end,” he said.
“To a child, learning is not work,” he added. “The act of sitting and filling in a bubble sheet is work.”
The initiative builds on growing numbers of school-age children playing chess in the United States. Along with Florida, thousands of students in New York City and Chicago are learning chess in school, also taught in major districts in Texas, Michigan and Washington state, among others.
From pre-school through college, scholastic memberships in the United States Chess Federation have increased for the past two years, officials say. Players under the age of 20 make up about 60 percent of the leading national chess organization.
“The more kids that are playing, the more people take notice,” said Marley Kaplan, president and chief executive of Chess in the Schools in New York City, whose program has reached a half-million children in high-poverty schools since 1986.
What sets Broward County apart was its decision that “this is not just good for a few kids, this is good for all kids,” said Wendi Fischer, executive director of America’s Foundation for Chess, which created the video-driven lessons, called First Move, used in Broward and other districts.
After three schools in Sunrise, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, piloted the program last year, Broward officials asked others if they wanted to join. Within a day, 100 principals volunteered.