Campus Life

Chess as a powerful teaching tool

Andy Davies (BFA/BED ’09) promotes chess as a powerful teaching tool for all grades, including Grade 1, the age he was when he began. “Chess is like the horizon,” he says. “Just when you think you’ve reached an understanding, you realize how much farther you need to go. you never solve the game. that’s the hook. it’s like a never-ending path.”

“Chess is a game of strategy and investment,” says University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education alumnus Andy Davies. “The pieces are characters, so there’s also a sense of narrative. In some games I feel a novel – if things are going well, I move quickly, I’m on the attack, and then one thing happens and I’m defending an onslaught from the other player. Or pieces lock up and suddenly it feels like a forest or hills, with only one gap in the valley or mountains to get through.”

In 2013, Andy Davies (BFA/BEd ’09) established chess clubs in three Lethbridge middle schools.

Mounting research suggests that while the chess battle rages important skills develop: lateral thinking, math, problem solving, cause and effect and forecasting. Behavioural benefits also accrue when playing a game of chess. Students perceived as less academic but good at chess are labelled “smart” by their peers.

“A person who is called smart becomes smart, actually tries harder,” says Davies. “Chess brings kids into an academic fold in a back door sort of way.”

In 2013, Davies established chess clubs in three Lethbridge middle schools – bringing together students of varying personalities and backgrounds. From this group the First Annual Southern Alberta Regional Championship was held this year and included students from all across southern Alberta.

Davies also helped organize a Lethbridge Chess Club event at the Galt Museum this year where thirty-two adults and students matched wits with global chess grandmasters Eric Hansen and Robin van Kampen.

“It’s because of a school club that Eric plays at all,” says Davies. “He started in junior high. He’s twenty-one now and plays world class chess.”

After graduating high school in Innisfail AB, Andy Davies explored the world, living and working in such places as Chili and Peru (where he, his sister, and a friend independently raised funds to build a shanty town school). Eventually, however, he became haunted by the prospect of a former art teacher challenging him about never having pursued his artistic abilities. At the age of 27, Davies returned to school, graduating from the University of Lethbridge in 2009 with a BFA/BEd. Davies presently teaches, and works as a professional studio artist.

“I am the embodiment of someone who models to students that they can follow their dreams.”