Educational Chess

This is the time for change

While many school chess programmes have been on hold during the pandemic, Helge Frowein was busier than ever. Here is his appeal to mobilize fellow chess teachers and get better solutions for online and blended instruction.

There is now a generation of kids that is not used to set up the pieces, distinguish illegal moves, push the clock, or solve exercises in the book.
There is now a generation of kids that is not used to set up the pieces, distinguish illegal moves, push the clock, or solve exercises in the book. (photo: https://www.schulschach-mb.de/)

Many fellow chess teachers became inactive in March 2020. School chess programmes just stopped. I heard it so many times, and it hurt every time, because I fear that some of them will never come back. They thought that the mess would be over within weeks. They never perceived this crisis as an opportunity for change. My own experience during the pandemic is quite the opposite. I have been teaching more than ever.

A school chess project I am working in was started by the chess section of the FC Bayern München on 1 March 2020. Two weeks later all schools closed their gates. It took us a week to bring our programme online, delivered through Zoom and Lichess. The main challenge was to familiarize the parents with the technical requirements. We set up two weekly tournaments and transposed all exercises from our workbooks into Lichess-studies. We sent the parents regular e-mails about homework, tournaments and the progress of their children. Their feedback was grateful and overwhelming. Some told us that our chess course was the only instruction that really worked at the time. Some have registered their kids as club members.

Never speak of problems, when you talk to a school! Show them a solution! Don’t count the extra time when you need to explain technicalities to the parents! Just do it!

During the following school year I started to teach for a school in Erding outside Munich. Normally, the commute would have been too far, but since it was online from the start it worked out well. By that time, the school had its own video conference system, and I just needed to integrate Lichess. Schools can have a lot of requirements for online teaching. There are data protection, safeguarding and commercial concerns. Never speak of problems, when you talk to a school! Show them a solution! Don’t count the extra time you need to explain technicalities to the parents! Just do it!

The choice for Lichess was easy because it is free. Access to the games your pupils play online is a great asset. You can see their progress and draw your leaning material from them. For the games it can make sense to coordinate with other groups that are taught at the same time, or to let the playing times of two consecutive groups overlap. Kahoot chess quizzes are a nice add-on.

The recently published FIDE-ECU survey focuses on school chess before the pandemic and ignores online and blended learning.
The recently published FIDE-ECU survey focuses on school chess before the pandemic and ignores online and blended learning.

There is now a generation of kids that knows chess only online. They are not used to set up the pieces, put captured pieces aside, distinguish between legal and illegal moves, push the clock and keep the time in check, to solve exercises in the book, or to keep a scoresheet. I am sure they will adjust to all this easily. For now we should focus on those chess teachers that were overwhelmed by technology.

We need mini games, more different types of exercises, Kahoot-style quizzes, and, most of all, video integrated with play.

Being on your own didn’t help during the pandemic. Teams were better prepared to help each other out. As school chess organisations we need to provide technical training and support to chess teachers. We need to write hands-on blogs and produce explanatory videos. I am puzzled that during the pandemic FIDE and the ECU sponsored a survey of the global state of school chess before the pandemic. Online teaching wasn’t even a topic in the survey. Nor was blended learning, the combination of classroom and online instruction.

Helge Frowein is a chess teacher in Munich and leads the school chess working group of the German Youth Chess Association (DSJ). At Work4Chess on 18. September he will talk about School Chess 3.0.
Helge Frowein is a chess teacher in Munich and leads the school chess working group of the German Youth Chess Association (DSJ). At Work4Chess on 18. September he will talk about School Chess 3.0. (photo: private)

Instead of looking back we better move on. It is time to work together and create better solutions. Open source should be the basis, because most schools won’t allow commercial sites or any gathering of personal data. We need mini games in order to teach beginners. We need more different types of exercises. We need Kahoot-style quizzes where you can actually move the pieces. As chess teachers we need to be able to monitor what exercises our pupils are doing and how they are scoring. Most of all, we need video integrated with play.

Helge Frowein will speak in the session School Chess 3.0 at Work4Chess.

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