Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Integrating Chess and Critical Thinking

I was holding off the news of a new class at Wood River High School:  Integrating Chess and Critical Thinking.  I do believe this is the first elective credit class of its kind at the high school level in the United States.  It has taken me over five years of discussion and three administrators to convince them that this will be a great class that students want to take.   My new principal, Peter Jurovich, allowed me much longer than two minutes to present my ideas and justifications, unlike predecessors - and he didn't even laugh!  Students will be able to learn about chess, the history of chess, the art and science of chess, develop their skills, and learn to think more critically in an interdisciplinary manner.

Our school is redesigning its curriculum, school day, and many other areas in order to better serve kids.  We are adopting the IB MYP program, Project Based Learning, and rethinking homework policies.   This class will be a perfect match for those programs.  I thought this was also a perfect time to propose a new chess class and typed a seven page proposal for the academic council in order to sell my idea.  There are currently over 30 kids signed up for the course which will be offered all year, this next year.  Students are able to take it as a nine week class for half a credit or a full semester.  Plus, they are able to sign up multiple times as the class is designed so students can enter the class at any point.

If this sounds like fluff, it certainly isn't going to be an "easy A."  I have identified twenty-eight state standards that this class will address or reinforce in language arts, world history, mathematics, government, science, and US History.  I think this will also be an excellent opportunity to pre-post-test students on the state standardized tests to determine the benefits of playing chess on a weekly, if not daily basis.

I have selected software (Think Like a King, Fritz, and Chessmaster 10000), internet servers (Gameknot and Chess.com), various work books (Square One, Teaching Chess, Chess Tactics, Susan Polgar's curriculum), Tips for Young Players (Sadler 1999) as a text,  and I am writing my own textbook that I can use for the unique curriculum and exercises that I put together.  Chapter 1 is nearly complete.  I really want to create an appreciation for the game and the culture, as well.

If any donor would like a tax deduction, please help us by financially donating so I can purchase some workbook and textbook resources.  c/o Adam Porth, WRHS, 1250 Fox Acres Road, Hailey, Idaho 83333.

I have the course broken down into these sections:
  • understanding the game of chess
  • playing chess
  • tactics
  • strategies
  • analyzing chess games
  • understanding chess organizations
  • history
  • art
  • science and math
  • biographies
  • journalism
  • creating a chess video of an analysis or an opening
  • chess variants
The goal is not to breed mini-Bobby Fishers or produce grandmasters.  But, I hope to develop, extend, and expand the processing of  information, exercise critical thinking skills in an environment that kids want to be in, and to instill a passion for the game and culture of chess.  Too much of our society falsely prescribes chess playing to either geeks, geniuses, or grandpas, and I believe that an interdisciplinary approach will attract the most interest in chess playing.  You could spend an entire year just working on chess skills, and I believe that students will be more apt to fall in love with the game when they start exploring the culture of chess, as I have.  Stay tuned for successes and failures from the classroom!


  1. Sounds like a great class. I hope it is a big success and that the textbook becomes a class standard.

  2. What I have discovered is that there is a lot of children's and middle school aged material for students, but not at the high school level.

  3. Wish I had that when I went to high school! Hope the best for ya Mr. Porth!

  4. What's the latest on this venture? Please let me know at Dave AT AppliedProsperity DOT com. Thank you. --Dave Charbonneau

  5. Hi Dave, I am going to be posting a review of the class after school gets out. But the course certainly is successful in terms of the number of kids signing up. I taught nearly 100 kids in our 750 person school!


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