The FINANCIAL — At times math teachers use a legend,“mathematics in the game of chess”, as an introduction to Exponential Functions.Theoriginal mythtells of amathematician in Indiawho invented the game of chess and was subsequently bestoweda vast reward for its creation.
The king of India was so impressed by the game that he offeredthe mathematician to“name your reward!”The inventor responded, “My wish is simple.Just give me one grain of rice upon each square of the chessboard, such that one grain is placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and so on, doubling the number of grains on each subsequent square.”The kingwas surprised by sucha humble request and swiftly agreed. After a week, his treasurer returned and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum!
While math teachers would conclude the story here and expand onexponential functions, the math-chess relation is not solelylimited to legends. “Playing chess makes kids smarter”, “chess increases mathematical abilities”,“chess improves academic performance”, and numerous similar claims may appear off the top of one’s head.One may also thinkthat chess intrinsically improves intellectual abilities andis firmly linkedto attention, memory, logical thinking, and problem solving. Therefore, it does notrequire a genius to note that errors in chess are not without academic,especially mathematical, consequences.
IS THERE A FINE LINE BETWEEN CHESS AND MATH?
In this digital age, kids divide their attention across many activities,oftenat the same time. They consequently may struggle to focus on a single activity, especially when it comes to mathematical problems. The questions childrenmight ask themselves when solving math problems aremost probably: “What is my goal here?”, “what information do I have to solve the problem?”, “what is the relationship between the information available and my goal?”, “what do I (and don’t I) need to complete this problem?”, and perhaps “how do I use this information to achieve my goal?” If children ask these questions when problem-solving, they are certainly able to focus, are attentive, and haveanalytical skills.
Though it is important to wonder, what skills do kids learn from playing chess?Concentration, focus, patience, strategic thinking, logical reasoning all spring to mind. To play chess well certainly requires intense concentration. Only a focused, patient, and persistent player will maintain steady results in chess – characteristics that are equally valuable for math and for overall performance in school. Many studies have demonstrated that children attending chess lessons show significant improvements in mathematicalabilities (Hong & Bart,2007; Scholtzetet al., 2008; Scholz et al., 2008; Barrett & Fish,2011;Kazemi, Yektayar, & Abad, 2012; Trinchero, 2012a).However,other contradictory evidencealso exists;according to research from the Institute of Education, which examined the effects of chess on the academic skills of nearly 4,000 British children, chess had no effect on children’s achievements, not only in mathematics, but also in literacy, and sciences too.
IS THE MATH-CHESS RELATION A TWO-WAY STREET?
In order to research the topic in greater details and discern the relation between math and chess, I visiteda school in Yerevan to perform the following activities:
• Interview math and chess teachers;
• Interview3rd(9-year-old kids) and 4th graders (10-year-old kids);
• Conduct IQ tests with 3rd and 4th graders;
• Analyze math and chess grades of students in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade (the years where chess is a required subject).
SUMMARY OF THE RESULTS
Table 1represents kids’ (boys and girls separately) average performance in math and chess.I observed the math and chess performance (grades are on a scale 1 to 10) of two classes,from the stage(2nd- 4th grade) where chess is taken as a compulsory subject,and gauged the results in both subjects for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.
The findings showed that:
• Girls, in each grade, have a higher average performance in math and lower average performance in chess (except 4th grade) than boys.
• Both boys and girls have a better average performance in chess than in math, in every grade.
• Girls:the average yearly change in chess is more significant, in every grade, than in math. For instance, in the 2nd grade, the average yearly change in chess performance is 0.46, while in math it is 0.01. The latter shows that improvement in chess performance may have a tiny positive effect on math performance. The same pattern is also true for the 3rd and 4th grades.
• Boys:in the 2nd grade, the average yearly change in chess overweighs math, being 0.14 and 0.01, respectively.In the 3rd grade, a year after first studying chess, boys’grades worsened in both subjects, the average yearly change being -0.01 and -0.02, respectively for math and chess.Yet, in the 4th grade,a different pattern can be observed; math performance deteriorated, while chess performanceimproved, with the average yearly change being -0.1 and 0.57, respectively.
TABLE 1: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF 2ND, 3RD, 4TH GRADE BOYS AND GIRLS IN MATHEMATICS AND CHESS
Table 2, below,displaysthe IQ results from two classes of 3rd graders and three classes of 4th graders.The results reveal that both girls and boys have higher IQ scores in the 3rd grade and,additionally, boys have better results in both grades.
One must ask, what conclusion can be drawnfromsuch(Table 1 &Table 2) results?Evidently, every year math and chess performance worsened, as did IQ scores. Nonetheless, looking at what it reveals about the math-chess relation: in girls,one can perceiveaslight positive link between math and chess;thoughfor boys, one may discern no form ofconnection.Finally, according to the IQ results, the 4th grade showsdeteriorated IQ scores for both girls and boys. Does thissuggest that chess has no affect at all on mathematic ability or that it has a negative effect?Expecting chess to enhance intelligence or overall academic achievement is just wishful thinking, however, this does not mean it cannot still add value to a child’s education.Therefore, while many of the potential benefits of chess practice in children are still unknown, we can identify that chess is a powerful tool in building children’s mathematic problem-solving competency.
WHAT THE TEACHERS SAY: According to chess teachers, chess pushes kids to think fast, strengthens logical thinking, and, on the whole, affects math achievements,asindividuals start thinking and analyzing more quickly. They emphasize, however, there are notable exceptions: there are kids who have strong mathematical abilities but are weakat chess, and vice versa, and they cannot offer an explanation for such phenomena.
Math teachers consider the genetic code, skills given by nature, to play a substantial role, not only in math and chess, but in thesuccess of any other subject. They also stress that kids who have good families, i.e. educated parents, who spend time with kids at home, are also very likely to have better performance in all subjects, math and chess included. The math teachers also agree that chess improves logical thinking, which should result in improved performance. Nevertheless, they believe it works both ways,as much as chess can improve math, math can also play a positive role in chess. The teachers did however point out the possible negative effects of chess: at times, children become disappointedreceiving bad grades in chess, which may affect their overall performance. The bottom line is, they claim, kids with good genes and from educated families will shine bright in every subject. Finally, math teachers also have difficulties ascertaining why some have success in chess and failurein math, and vice versa.
WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY: Interestingly, kids do not find chess as important as mathematics. “Chess is just a game and math is for life”, they replied. In particular, children who have many achievements in math and failures in chess do not understand the importance of chess, and they think that chess is superfluousinlife. “My father does not know how to play chess, but he has good mathematical skills and has built a successful career”, one child stated. Another group agrees that chess significantly increases their logical and mathematical skills. “It was not a coincidence that our kings liked to play chess”, one answered, “Chess teaches players how to approach life. It teaches that there is more than one answer to a problem, you can take a step back and look at the picture through many points.”While onegroupsuggeststhat math and chess are interrelated; the logic grasped in math is helpful when playing chess, and vice versa.
By Laura Manukyan