Teaching chessboard math to children as young as 6

Look at a chessboard.  What math lessons do you see? I see lessons in basic math, algebra, and geometry. I see all of the primary operations including: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I see numerous ways to teach math to children as young as 6 years old. Take a look.

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addition In the photo above, you can see 8 horizontal rows (called ranks) numbered 1- 8. There are 8 rows with 8 squares each.  Add row 1 to row 2, you get 8 + 8 =16. Add rows 1 & 2 to rows 3 & 4, you 16 + 16 = 32, and so on, up to 64 squares.

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subtraction Once we  position all of  the chess pieces on the first row, we see 7 empty rows left. 8 – 1 = 7. Add another row and we get 8 – 2 = 6. Set up the whole board and get 8 – 4 = 4 empty rows.

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multiplication: My 3rd-grade homeschooler loves practicing her 8s on the chessboard. Again, the board has 8 rows of 8 squares.  Each rank is numbered 1- 8. Thus she can “read” the board and count the squares on each row: 8 × 1= 8, 8 × 2= 16, and so on.

division 16 ÷ 2 = 8 or 24 ÷ 8 = 3 the opposite of multiplication.

fractions simplify 16/2 = 8. That’s equal to 2 rows  divided in half.  Or 8/8 = 1 whole board. Or 4/8 = 1/2.

It touches my heart as I watch my younger students connect all of these mathematical ideas: 4 is half of 8; 8 × 4 = 32, and since 32 is half of 64, my 2nd and 3rd graders can process the idea that when you double the numbers, 8 × 8 = 64. I am especially reminded of a specific student of mine, a 3rd grader who struggles with her 2 times tables. She gets frustrated and cries. Well, as she and I play chess together she beams with pride.

We started with the 8s and she totally gets it. After two days, she has the 8s memorized through 8 × 12. Clearly, this game of chess is not only fun, but also there are many math concepts that are being reinforced at the same time. 

geometry:  A chessboard is a perfect square.  A square is a polygon with four equal sides. To help my 3rd grader understand this concept, I allowed her to use a measuring tape to measure the four sides.  Then, I showed her a rectangular Cheerios box (which would later become her Chess storage kit) and asked her to measure the four sides. She could then tell me the difference between a square, with four equal sides, and a rectangle with two long sides and two short sides.

exponents: A chessboard has 8 rows with 8 squares in each row. Thus, the exponent 8 squared, or 8 × 8 = 64, which is the number of squares on a chessboard.

angles:

  • straight line: pawns move in a straight line.
  • diagonal: pawns must move in a diagonal direction to capture.

patterns: My students have to make their own chessboards, which are made up of 8 rows of 8 squares arranged in alternating light/dark square patterns. This hands-on board making activity reinforces a basic 2nd grade math concept.

As your child begins to learn how to play chess, take every opportunity to discuss the various math concepts you encounter. There are patterns and symmetry. There are moves that create right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles. There are moves that run parallel and perpendicular.

A great exercise is to have your students draw their possible chess moves and then trace over the lines to reveal the angles that each move creates. Research shows that chess is the perfect game to help increase your student’s overall academic performance. It helps students develop stronger analytical skills. It helps them with logic and reasoning. My students love it and so do I.

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