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Chess in the curriculum? The game that makes you smarter

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 6:50 a.m. MDT

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, David Ayrapetyan plays a game of chess at his chess class in Yerevan. Tiny Armenia is a big player in world chess, and a new gambit could make it even bigger: mandatory chess in school. The only thing 8-year-old David Ayrapetyan is hoping for from the program: an opponent worthy of his skills.

Tigran Mehrabyan, Associated Press

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Birmingham, Alabama, is looking to make chess a fixture in its schools, in hopes that it will allow kids to stretch their minds and improve their analytical abilities.

The plan is to create chess clubs at 15 to 20 schools in the Birmingham school system. The hopes reach beyond math, AL.com notes. "According to Birmingham City Schools officials, the benefit of chess instruction is not limited to math achievement," AL.com noted. "It is also known to increase analytical and problem solving skills, improve memory and has even been shown to increase IQ scores, they said."

But math is a big part of the picture. School officials cite a 1998 study that showed improved math skills after exposure to chess, AL.com reported. "The researchers randomly gave black high school students from the rural South 120 hours of chess instruction. They then administered math proficiency tests and found that students who received the chess instruction scored better than those who did not."

"Chess allows students to think critically, to strategize, to plan moves several steps ahead, and to think about consequences of moves," said Dr. Chad Witherspoon, superintendent of the Birmingham City Schools in a new promotional video. "It gives students an opportunity to think at a different level."

Across the Atlantic a similar chess push is underway, as an ideologically diverse group of political leaders in the United Kingdom is now pushing for chess integration into public schools.

Yasmin Qureshi, a Member of Parliament, argued that all state primary schools should have chess as part of the curriculum and should be made a sport with access to sports funding, according to a report in the Telegraph.

“The skills involved in playing chess are actually skills that a lot of young people can benefit from learning, especially children who have problems with attention and hyperactivity,” Qureshi said.

In 2011 chess became a compulsory feature in public schools in Armenia, a nation obsessed with the game. Armenia invested $1.5 million to create textbooks and curricula, train instructors and buy equipment.

"We hope that the Armenian teaching model might become among the best in the world," Armen Ashotyan told The Associated Press at the time.

"By incorporating chess as part of the curriculum you are including a game, and that's how kids see it," said Wendi Fischer, executive director of the US Foundation for Chess in the same AP report. "They think they're focused on fun. So I think it is a great way to cross over between a true hardcore curriculum that's mandatory and the young children being able to play and explore and have fun."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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