Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Earth Versus Space" Chess Match Begins on Monday

American astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who has spent some of his free time aboard the International Space Station by playing a series of chess games versus the staff at Mission Control, will take on a much bigger chess challenge starting on Monday: the entire world! The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is coordinating a game between Chamitoff and "all Earthlings." You can participate in choosing Team Earth's moves by visiting this page on the USCF website: Earth Versus Space Chess Match, 2008.

Team Earth's efforts will be led by the Stevenson Elementary School Chess Club of Bellevue, Washington, winners of this year's Kindergarten through Third Grade National Championship. Their club members will select up to four choices for Team Earth to select from, except in cases of obvious or forced moves, which will be submitted automatically. It is expected that each side will play one move per day on weekdays but the pace could be faster or slower based on a variety of factors, including Chamitoff's work schedule aboard the Space Station.

Here is a NASA press release about the game: NASA, U.S. Chess Federation to Begin Earth vs. Space Match. USCF Executive Director Bill Hall said, "We hope the excitement and interest this game generates will inspire students to become interested in chess. Chess is a valuable tool to lead students to become interested in math and to develop critical thinking skills, objectives we focus on in our work with schools nationwide."

This is really a great opportunity to foster interest in both the space program and chess, a wonderful game that can help students not only improve their critical thinking skills but also several other important traits:

1) Patience--To play chess well you have to be patient, both in terms of waiting for your opponent to move and also in terms of understanding that you cannot win instantly but you must lay the groundwork for success by incrementally improving your position.

2) Social skills--The stereotype may be that chess is an anti-social activity for "nerds" but in reality chess players develop their social skills not only in their interactions with opponents--learning how to "Win with grace, lose with dignity" as Grandmaster Susan Polgar says--but also by participating in tournaments that include players from a variety of backgrounds and age groups.

3) Understanding the connection between choices and outcomes--The choices you make determine the person you become. Chess provides dramatic and almost instantaneous affirmation of this truth, because when you make bad choices in a chess game you lose. Many educators have discovered that by involving "at risk" students in chess clubs they are able to guide those students along a path of making better decisions on and off the board.

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