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Playing Chess, Learning More

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This story in the Baltimore Sun chronicles the growth of a chess club in the Baltimore public school system over the past few years. According to the article, the program has not only helped kids learn how to play chess and improve their concentration, it has also helped keep them out of trouble and improve their academic performance all-around. Here's what one of the chess coaches in the article had to say:

"I've watched kids, particularly girls, who had very little confidence build a huge amount of confidence. I've seen it over and over, academically and the way they carry themselves generally in life. The chess board is math, algebra, geometry and logical reasoning - it helps kids in all those areas. A good choice has a good consequence, and a bad choice has a bad consequence."

The whole article really speaks to the importance of after-school activities like clubs and sports. It seems to me that even if those kinds of programs don't have a specifically academic focus, the skills they teach often have far-reaching effects on student performance and an ability to tap into kids' motivation levels in a way that traditional classes can't.

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Not that I really have anything against chess clubs, but to add a nitpicky skeptical note, couldn't the chess club coaches in the quote be overestimating the effect of the club in delivering confidence?

I can think of several natural progressions that would cause such an apparent trend with or without chess. For instance, chess coaches are most likely to see these kids in the context of the club. But people who join ANY group are likely to start with little confidence, and a little shyness, and then progress from there within the context of the group, utterly regardless of whether this is an actual trend in their lives in general.

And kids at that age often, well, mature over time, chess or no chess.

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