“60 Minutes” Chess Coach Offers Chess Class for Educators [Part 2]

The Franklin Chess Center's 2nd Floor Tournament Room with a portrait of Paul MorphyNovember 28, 2019 – As much pride as we take in the courses that Chess in Schools has developed for teachers, we are always keen to discover how other experts in the Chess in Education (CIE) field conduct teacher training.

Part 2 of this article discusses the training content of the Introduction to Teaching Chess in Schools (ITTCIS) taught by Dr. Jeff Bulington. Students know him as “Dr. B.” To the adults who attended the two-day course at the Franklin Chess Center in Meadville, MS, Dr. Bulington (the doctorate is in education) comes across as a modern-day Renaissance man: educator, philosopher, intellectual, adventurer (signing up for a 10-year stint in rural Meadville, MS), and master story-teller who can weave together tales of chess, language arts, mathematics, and life skills in ways that keep primary children enthralled.

I wanted to learn about Dr. Jeff Burlington’s methods and to understand the similarities and differences with the Chess in Schools course. Jerry Nash and I had also taken similar training offered by the European Chess Union, so that too was a baseline for comparison.

There were a number of similarities between Bulington’s ITTCIS and the Chess in the Classroom courses offered by Chess in Schools. Both programs share common assumptions about:

  1. the benefits of CIE
  2. the importance of teacher-driven instruction; that is, having training delivered by persons with training in pedagogy, child psychology, and classroom management.
  3. Recognition that CIE is distinctly different from competitive chess. [Although if you are fortunate enough to engage a trainer with Dr. Burlington’s talents you may be able to deliver strong results in both realms.]
  4. To justify a role in the classroom, CIE needs to impart cognitive skills that are transferable to the 21st Century Skills training that drives much of today’s educational goals.
  5. A deep appreciation of the importance of pedagogy and psychology to good CIE training. Both Bulington and Nash come at this with different styles: Dr. B as in a serious intellectual fashion;  Jerry Nash with a folksy humor: “My wife tells me about some of the problems she encounters in her primary grade class room. Now I realize you probably don’t have students like this, but ….”

Several differences stood out between Bulington’s ITTCIS class and our own Chess in the Classroom – Level 1:

  1. 2-day vs. 4-day class. Dr. Bulington’s 2-day course corresponds closely to what Chess in Schools (CIS) offers as its 2-day Advanced course.  The 2-day course, like the Introductory course of the European Chess Union, demands more of its teacher participants. In my opinion, it had a “master class” quality which has much to offer to teachers who bring education credentials and classroom experience as well as some experience in teaching chess to children. Many of the teachers who went through our (CIS’s) 4-day training were from schools just starting chess programs; teachers needed the extra 2 days to gain confidence in their chess skills and making the connections to 21st Century skills. Still, it is easier to sell a two-day course than a 4-day course, particularly if training takes place during the school year.
  2. Chess as children’s theater. Pieces on the chessboard come to life in various stories that cross lessons. Little Elizabeth (a pawn on her e7 home square) needs to get to school (e1) in order to be promoted, but she spots a creepy king standing on the a2 street corner a few blocks from her school. Her Dad is asleep in the corner bedroom on h8. Dad can be grouchy if she wakes him up early. Should she run for the school or wake up Dad? The lesson employs a wonderful blend of drama, relatable childhood dilemmas, impulse control, risk assessment, critical thinking, and life skills with dives into language arts (the meaning of “vulnerability”) and math. (Can Elizabeth make it safely to the school if she tries to run for it on her own?) Such stories are powerful teaching tools that we will be adding to our CIS courses.
  3. An absence of explicit connections of chess to education standards. These connections are implicit in the teaching delivered by Dr. Bulington. The assumption is that teachers will recognize them and use them on their own. In our experience, this may be problematic for teachers who have not taught chess before, or have limited chess experience. Our CIS 4-day course devotes some time to explicit discussions of the connections, development of lesson plans, and the importance of being able to make the case for CIE to parents, administrators and other teachers.
  4. Abundant (too much?) use of chess exercises having to do with recognizing visual patterns and piece mobility, and control of squares. [Not just exercises in recognizing tactics.] One consequence is that such puzzles do help student shift being overly focused on the squares that have pieces on them, to being aware of the significance of empty squares. Dr. B takes many of his puzzles from an old software program called Chess Tutor. I did not have an opportunity to talk with Dr. B about his rationale for giving these such prominence.
  5. Use of Minigames. Like the European Chess Union, the ITTCIS class makes heavy use of minigames. Elizabeth, now a Knight, goes Berry Pickin.  Chaos & Order is employed as a technique to dispel youthful energy before switching to and activity requiring focus. As a general rule, minigames are very time-efficient exercises that exercise one or two elements of chess training in a game context that takes no more than a few minutes. We recognize minigames as a best practice and have added more of them to our CIS classes.
  6. Location Offerings: Introduction to Teaching Chess in Schools is offered periodically in Mississippi. Chess in Schools will work with sponsors to offer programs at any location in the US.

Dr. Bulington’s Introduction to Teaching Chess in Schools successfully incorporates many of the CIE concepts and best practices that we have encountered abroad and incorporated in our own training. The University of Mississippi’s Center for Mathematics & Science Education deserves kudos for sponsoring this class and sets an example for how universities can play a role in bringing the United States catch up with other developing countries in realizing the benefits of CIE. We appreciate the open exchange of ideas (both shared and differences) which help to advance best practices. From this we all gain clarity as to what does and what does not work.

Dr. B has been asked by the US Chess Scholastic Council to chair their Chess in Education subcommittee. We are delighted that he has accepted.

Article by Neil Dietsch

“60 Minutes” Chess Coach Offers Chess Class for Educators [Part 1]

October 23, 2019 – CIS Managing Director Neil Dietsch travels to the Franklin Chess Center in Meadville, MS to check out a class titled Introduction to Teaching Chess in Schools.
The class is offered by The University of Mississippi’s Center for Mathematics & Science Education and taught by Dr. Jeff Bulington, the chess coach featured in a 2017 60 Minutes story about the impact of teaching chess on students in rural Mississippi, and honored as the 2018 Chess Coach of the Year.

I knew the story from 60 Minutes in 2017 about a local benefactor in Franklin, MS who had contracted with chess instructor Jeff Bulington to move from Memphis to Franklin, MS to establish a chess club and work with students in this rural Mississippi town for ten years starting in 2015. The story featured the impact it had on children as well as the competitive success that its students had at state and national tournaments. This brief 60 Minutes Overtime feature hints at the extent to which his teaching methods transcend standard competitive chess training.

What I did not know until I met Jeff in August 2019 at the US Chess Delegates meeting was the extent to which his coaching and training methods align with Chess in Education concepts. Dr. Bulington’s methods arise from a diverse array of training and experience. Imagine a melding of chess coach, philosopher, children’s theater performer, doctor of Education with an adventurer prepared to take on a ten-year stint in an unfamiliar town of 7,000 in rural Mississippi and you begin to understand something about the qualities this CIE thought-leader brings to Chess in Education.

The class included local Meadville teachers, myself, and Chess Master Pete Karagianis representing US Chess.

In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss the content of the two-day Introduction to Teaching Chess in Schools class, including the novel approaches and methods that “Dr. B.” (as he is known by his young students) employs in his chess training. Among these are:

  1. cleverly embedding the practice of language and literacy skills in stories and puzzles
  2. intertwining logic, chess strategy, and life lessons in the review of chess games
  3. coaching teachers on listening skills; focusing less on right or wrong answers and more on understanding the thinking process each student employs to arrive at their answer.

For those ready to take a deeper dive now into Dr. Bulington’s approach and methods, check out this 1-hour video of his presentation upon receiving the 2018 Chess Coach of the Year award.

Preparing Children for the Digital World

September 22, 2019 – The European Chess Union’s Education Commission released this video explaining why chess is the ideal classroom tool to prepare children for the digital world. It offers a brief, but compelling case for why educators worldwide are introducing chess in schools! And why US Educators should pay attention!

ChessKid Memberships

For clients and past participants in the Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) program, Chess in Schools (CIS) is pleased to offer ChessKid Gold memberships to Schools at a discounted price. Due to a special arrangement with ChessKid, ordering through CIS allows you to have the advantage of ChessKid for your students at prices lower than what you would receive if you went directly online to place an order.

In addition to the many skill-building tools available for students, Chess-Kid has added a new feature for teachers – the Classroom Planner. Teachers now have a guide that provides a 30-unit outline that includes educational objectives (especially for math), links to lesson videos, and suggestions for supplemental activities. See this article by Christine VanCott to learn how to enhance your chess instruction and continue to build curriculum connections. The Classroom Planner offers teachers a single online location from which to build their chess lessons.

Contact CIS for current pricing for ChessKid memberships: support@chessineducation.us.

Developing Executive Function Skills

The Center on the Developing Child (CDC) at Harvard University recently released findings about the critical nature of developing executive functions in early childhood and adolescence. The video is an overview of several papers on the subject. The online article includes this definition: “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” The guide emphasizes the point that the development of these functions has life-long implications.

Chess in Schools has developed a set of posters called “Think Like a Chess Player” to help students rehearse the skills they need to function successfully in the classroom and as adults. Schools who participate in the CIE Initiative Package receive the full set of posters as well as access to lesson plans designed by teachers to connect chess to the curriculum.

Jerry Nash Receives Two International Appointments

June 27, 2019 – CIS’s Jerry Nash has been named Editor in Chief for the journal Chess: Education and Science. This is the official journal of the Chess Scientific Research Institute (CSRI) at the Armenian State Pedagogical University at Kh. Abovyan.

The journal’s website indicates the main areas on which articles will focus. These include (italics added) “psychological (cognitive processes, intelligence, psychological conditions and phenomena etc.), sociological (educational potential and possibilities of chess, social attitude towards chess as an educational innovation), pedagogical (features of teaching chess, interdisciplinary interconnections, issues of professionals training), chess (researches based on essence and peculiarities of chess in the context of education).” Jerry looks forward to working with the editorial board as well as the staff of the journal and CSRI to build an international audience and enhance efforts for future research.

June 19, 2019 – Jerry Nash has been appointed to serve on the FIDE – EDU (World Chess Federation Education Commission) Workgroup: High Quality Standards for Chess Education. Members of the workgroup currently include chess in education leaders from seven countries: Armenia, Ireland, Venezuela, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Hungary, and the United States.

State Organizations Affirm Chess in Education Initiative

March 30, 2019 – State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey endorsed CIS’s Chess in Education Initiative in this March 20, 2019 memorandum to City and County School Superintendents.

We are also pleased to have the support of Ryan Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) organization.

Chess in Education Research Report Confirms Benefits of ACIS

February 10, 2019 – Independent researchers from Tennessee Tech University and the University of Alabama have released findings based on three years of data from the Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) program. The study is believed to be the largest of its kind in the United States to assess the benefits of a teacher-driven chess in education program.

Excerpts from the full report:

1) Summary of Findings Related to Students’ Critical Thinking Skill Development

For the Induction and Deduction constructs, students exposed to the chess intervention had noticeably higher scores than the control group students, in the lower grade levels in particular (4-6). Chess instruction did not appear to have much of an impact on induction or deduction skills for students in grades 7 and 8. These data imply that chess instruction might affect these skills in earlier grade levels. Similarly, for the combined construct —Observation and Credibility—students who received chess instruction benefited in the lower grades more than the higher grades. Students in grades 7-10 scored either less than or not differently from the control group on their observation and credibility skills.

There were no differences in Assumptions skills between the intervention and control groups across the board. The largest difference in Assumptions scores between the intervention and control group was in tenth grade in Year 2, which might imply that this is a more advanced skill that chess instruction could bring about in older students.

Overall post-test scores maintained the same patterns as the sub construct categories; students who received the chess instruction had higher scores than the control group in most of the lower grades, and not so much in higher grades.

2) Summary of Findings Related to 21st Century Skills

Overall, teachers in the intervention groups evaluated their students’ 21st Century Skills with higher scores than students in the control groups in the eight skill areas. In Year 1, first and fifth grade students exposed to the chess intervention scored higher than the control group students did in almost every skill area, though fourth grade chess students typically scored a little lower than the control group students in most of the skill areas. In Year 2, the results varied across grade levels without many consistent patterns. However, in Year 3, when compared to the control groups, the intervention students had higher averages in every grade level included in the analysis for the following skills: Affective Decision & Judgment Processes, Systems Thinking, Cross-Disciplinary Thinking, and Overall Engagement.

3) Summary of Findings Related to Teachers’ Perceptions

Teachers expressed that they felt the use of chess greatly benefits students, and though challenging, it was worth the extra time it took to implement chess in instruction and in the students’ school day in general. Teachers reported large gains in their perceptions of students’ abilities across a variety of cognitive and social abilities. Not only did chess appear to benefit the students, but it also seemed to help the teachers. They shared that their classes flowed more smoothly and that students were more receptive to their pedagogy. Though we were not
aware of any other chess tools teachers may have used, ChessKid.com appeared to be a preferred way for teachers to implement chess into their lessons, with only a small number of teachers (7%) indicating a preference for not utilizing this website. Overall, these factors indicate chess as an instructional strategy provided a positive and meaningful education experience for students and teachers. read more…

Alabama Chess in Schools Announcement

ACIS Pilot Project to End May, 2019

November 23, 2018 – After a successful four years, the current Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) pilot program will end at the end of this school year. The pilot program has operated as a partnership between Chess in Schools LLC and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). Grant funding that would have extended the pilot and opened the program to new schools next year was not approved by the Alabama State Department of Education for FY 2019.

Chess in Schools LLC will remain active in providing services in support of Chess in Education as it transitions to a new business model. Details about a new ACIS 2.0 program will be released here over the coming weeks.

Great Program! Promising Research! What Happened to the ALSDE Funding Support?

Two years ago the business model recommended to us by ALSDE was to apply for a High Hopes grant as an educational service vendor. We would then provide services and grants to school systems who applied for and were accepted by the ACIS program. Chess in Schools LLC was formed to implement this model. Essentially ALSDE outsourced ACIS grant management administration to Chess in Schools LLC with significant savings in administrative labor for both schools and ALSDE. We have learned, after the fact, that this model has fallen out of favor with the new ALSDE administration.
Based on information from multiple sources, we have concluded that the ACIS funding decision had little to do with the merits of the ACIS program. ACIS continues to enjoy support from those within ALSDE who have been directly involved with the program.
State Superintendent Mackey has invited a future High Hopes grant application for FY 2020 and indicated that the new ACIS research results (due in December) would be an important consideration. However it is clear that we need to shift our focus to marketing CIS services directly to Local Education Agencies (LEAs).

Implications for ACIS Schools for This School Year

Chess in Schools LLC will fulfill its ACIS commitments as spelled out in the memoranda of agreement signed with ACIS schools.
• Free ChessKid licenses will remain active through the end of the school year and summer.
• Free access to the CIS Resource Library will continue through the end of the school year.
• Remote support for teachers will continue through support@chessineducation.us
• Research data will be collected for the current school year so that we can continue to build evidence of the effectiveness of chess in education. *** This is important. The ACIS experiment has international visibility. ***
ACIS services curtailed as a result of the funding cut:
• Free on-site visits during the remaining school year.
• Grants to help pay for professional development classes in Summer 2019. Classes will be offered for pay.
We encourage each LEA to consider applying for local community grants for Chess in Schools. Our team will be looking into developing model grant applications to assist schools to start and sustain successful Chess in School programs employing international best practices. Schools should set aside funds now for Chess in Schools professional development this summer.

Chess in Schools 2.0: Plans for the Future

Chess in Schools LLC is fortunate to have a program that has proven effective and popular with schools. The uniqueness and promise of the program are being recognized internationally.
Within a few weeks we will have an interim report from researchers with the results of ACIS performance data from last year. As a results-based organization, our future efforts will be driven by what we learn from the data. We expect it to reflect the positive anecdotal data received from ACIS teachers and administrators.

Chess in Schools remains committed to advancing chess in education programs in Alabama and across the United States. Our visits to Armenia and Qatar this month and to the upcoming London Chess in Education Conference in December should give us a view to understanding and influencing international best practices and integrating them into our class offering. Chess in Education progress is seen in the European Chess Union and is receiving higher priority in FIDE, the international chess governing organization. We need to do our part to see that it happens in the United States.

Neil Dietsch will be leading a workshop at the London conference on Business Development for CiE service providers. Following the conference Neil and Jerry will be taking a 2-day Chess in Education seminar sponsored by the European Chess Union’s Chess in Education Committee. We are expecting to bring back numerous ideas for new classes and methods in our CIS professional development classes.
Based on these international experiences we expect to formulate a new business development plan for Chess in Schools. Continuing to provide summer Chess in Schools professional development courses is an obvious component. We also expect to develop opportunities outside of Alabama.

Last, but certainly not least, we will be searching for financial support for our mission to continue expanding Chess in Education within the United States. For those of you who are able, please consider a donation to Chess in Schools as part of your year-end charitable giving.

Neil Dietsch, Managing Director
Jerry Nash, National Chess Education Consultant
Nancy Johnson, Operations Manager


Jerry Nash


All rights reserved. Chess in Education - US LLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, EIN 90-1141646.