Schools’ lesson plan: bishop to queen four

Three years of work leads to major tournament

by Josh Whitener

Students from Rock Rest and Wesley Chapel elementaries participate in a chess tournament March 17. Josh Whitener/UCW photo

WESLEY CHAPEL – Rock Rest Elementary custodian Ian Haigler has always enjoyed chess. It makes sense to him.

But more than a hobby, he’s turned the game into a lesson plan for teaching critical thinking and logic to young kids.

Three years ago, Haigler pitched an idea to bring a chess class to Rock Rest. He wanted kids to learn about life through the game, with comprehensive and structured lessons and friendly matches. The school bought into his idea, and it blossomed March 17 into the biggest chess tournament the county has ever seen.

“I wanted to teach chess as an actual class,” Haigler said. “It teaches you problem solving, competition, math. I wanted to use it as a problem-solving tool in a (classroom setting).”

Through observing the children in his class, and from his own experience playing chess, Haigler has seen a trend of heightened critical thinking skills in chess players.

“Our schools want students to think, but we don’t teach thought,” Haigler said. “This is teaching kids how to identify the problem and go about solving it, and how to apply that (critical thinking) to their other studies.”

Haigler worked with then Rock Rest principal Wendy Gravely to start the class. It was originally open to fifth-graders on Thursday afternoons after school and about 10 kids participated. Eventually the class expanded to include fourth-graders, then third-graders, and is now open to any Rock Rest student who wants to join.

When Gravely moved to Wesley Chapel Elementary this school year, Haigler worked with her to start a chess class there. The class is offered on Fridays during non-instructional enrichment activity time, and about 40 fourth- and fifth-graders participate.

Three years of the chess class at Rock Rest, and the addition of the Wesley Chapel class, culminated in a premiere Swiss chess tournament, held Saturday, March 17, at Wesley Chapel Elementary. Fifty-two students in kindergarten through fifth grade participated in the four hour competition.

Players with the top 10 scores received special trophies, remodeled from recycled karate trophies donated to the tournament.

Haley Hart, a Rock Rest second-grader, took up the game this school year, but she performed well at the tournament, winning three out of four rounds.

“By the time she’s in fifth grade, I’ll have her in the top 100 women in North Carolina,” Haigler said.

Haley said she enjoys the game but there’s one part she likes most of all.

“I play at home with my grandpa,” Haley said. “It’s fun to play. I really like winning.”

Gravely said the tournament was “wonderful” and a “huge success,” and hopes to expand the Wesley Chapel program next year to include third-graders.

“Children do get a lot out of it,” Gravely said. “It’s an incentive to make sure they’re keeping up with their work.”

Haigler hopes the rest of the schools in the county will jump on the chess class bandwagon and start an educational revolution.

“I expect it to really blow up in the county,” he said.

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