Educational Chess

Incredible that this is for free

The Classroom video teaching tool from Chessable has made group teaching simpler and more efficient for Johan Hellsten.

Here I assign the right to move to a student.
Here I assign the right to move to a student.

“Before the pandemic I had done some online teaching, but never with groups. In the beginning I combined Zoom with Chessbase, which is great to prepare my teaching material and add arrows and markers, but it’s far from ideal for the interaction. When I asked the kids for the best move, it was always me who had to play it out on the board. I was like their secretary. It’s much more natural if my students move the pieces.

I also tried Lichess, which has cool exercises for beginners and more advanced players. For one-on-one online lessons it’s the best in my opinion, and it also works fine with small groups. But on Lichess you cannot really control who is moving the pieces. My group lessons with younger kids on Lichess occasionally turned into chaos, because everybody moved at the same time. So when Greg Shahade at US Chess School told me that Chessable was seeking beta-testers for a new group teaching tool, I was happy to give it a try.

Classroom has audio and video integrated, and both are working very well.

Its name is Classroom, and one of the first things I appreciated was that I can assign one student the right to move. A white or black pawn, depending on who is to move, will show up next to his or her name. Classroom has audio and video integrated, and both are working very well. Your students can hear and see you. Unless you mute them or they turn off their camera, you can hear and see them, too. It is basically like sitting around a chess board in real life, but here everybody has a perfect angle of the board!

A quiz is underway. The students’ choices are grouped. Even with a lot of students around, the coach has an overview.
A quiz is underway. The students’ choices are grouped. Even with a lot of students around, the coach has an overview.

A great feature is the quiz. When students enter a move in quiz mode, the platform replies with your preprogrammed lines, or whatever move(s) you wish to test them on at that moment. On each board you see how many got it right and how many got it wrong or timed out. Among the students that got it right, you can assign one of them the pawn: „Maria, show us your solution!“

In game mode, you can choose between tournament games, for which different time controls, including increments, are available, or free games, or simultaneous games. Say you want to teach your students Philidor’s defense in the rook ending. First you show it, then you do some quizzes (and re-quizzes, if you like repeating in Chessable style), and finally practice with a simul. You can start a simul from any position you like. If you have beginners, you can play a simul with king against two rooks, to see if they know how to checkmate. Or you can have everyone play a practice game from the same position. Classroom even allows you to set up a position without kings, which is useful for teaching beginners but isn’t possible with many chess softwares.

You can start a simul from any position you choose.
You can start a simul from any position you choose.
You can import your preparation in PGN or FEN. Either from a file or just copy & paste. Here I opt for the latter.
You can import your preparation in PGN or FEN. Either from a file or just copy & paste. Here I opt for the latter.

You can prepare material in PGN-files and upload it on Classroom, or you can use Chessable courses. Your students will not see the material as such, they will only see what you show on the board. Arrows and markers are available in different colours. Setting up positions is very fast. You can have another teacher taking over from you with just a few clicks.

There is also a chat window. You can set it to private so that only you can see the messages from the students, for example when you ask for the right plan or any other answer that requires words. What you cannot do there is to send a message to only one student. You always communicate with the whole group. But this is actually a relief. When you are supposed to answer individually, that sometimes takes a lot of time. If necessary you can address a kid faster in audio: „Sorry Paul, you drop the rook.“

I use Classrom from beginners’ level to IM level. It took me about a week to become familiar with all the possibilities.

I started to use Classroom in May for my online lessons at USCS and also in my local classes here in Ecuador. I use it from beginners’ level to IM level. It took me about a week to become familiar with all the possibilities. What I missed? Two things: First, when I show a game, I would like the names of the players displayed. This has apparently been fixed in a new version. Second, on Classroom nothing is stored. You don’t have a record of the games and analyses. Students cannot benefit from going over the material again. I hear that Chessable is already working on this, but is planning to release it only to certain customers.

Johan Hellsten is a Swedish grandmaster and coach based in Ecuador.
Johan Hellsten is a Swedish grandmaster and coach based in Ecuador.

In any case it’s going really well, and my students also like it very much. If you belong to those chess teachers that find online teaching hard, check it out. It’s incredible that Classroom is free, because it is already such a fantastic tool.”

As told to Stefan Löffler

Liliana Morales from the Chessable team will present Classroom at the Work4Chess conference on 18 September.