Chessboard math: 2nd – 3rd grade

HANDS-ON MATH: Today, my 3rd grader, Kennedy, and I are building her chess kit, including the board and pieces. Helping  her make her own game inventory creates a win-win situation for both of us. She gets to cut and glue (which she loves) and I get to teach and reinforce valuable math lessons.

She got to use whatever two colors she wanted as long as they created a light-dark contrast. She chose pink and purple. Throughout the process, we discussed following concepts;


WHAT IS A SQUARE? Kennedy  and I looked at a few different chessboards to determine the make up of a square. The first thing she identified was the four sides. A square is a quadrilateral. “Quad” means four.


It took her a bit longer to process the idea that a square is made four equal sides.  So I pulled out an assortment of square and rectangular boxes and compared them to the chessboard. We then discussed the similarities and differences between the two shapes. Eventually, she realized that a square has four equal sides and a rectangle also has four sides, but they aren’t all all equal. A rectangle four sides with unequal lengths that are parallel.


PROBLEM SOLVING: How many squares does she need altogether? How many squares does she need of each color? How many chess pieces does she need per side? A few strategies, including patterns, simple addition, and multiplication will help her figure all of this out:


  • STRATEGY: describe the pattern. She counted 8 rows with 8 squares laid out in an alternating pattern of light and dark.
  • ADDITION: 2 rooks + 2 knights + 2 bishops + 1 queen + 1 king = 8 pieces on the first row (rank).  Plus 8 pawns on the next rank = 16 per side.
  • MULTIPLICATION: To determine the total number of pieces for both sides, she would need to multiply by 2. Rooks, knights, and bishops would be 2 × 2 = 4 of each of those pieces or add them together and then multiply by 2 would look like this: 6 × 2 = 12. The queen & king would be 2 × 1=2 or, if you add them, 2 × 2 = 4. The 8 pawns would be 2 × 8 = 16. Finally, 16 pieces per sides would be 16 × 2 = 32 total playing pieces.

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