Sunday, June 30, 2013

my favorite lessons, part two: choosing the best capture

Choosing the Best Capture 
level: absolute beginner
format: large group lesson
time: 15 minutes

     I do this lesson as part of teaching how the pieces move. I normally teach the pawn first, then the rook, bishop, and queen, then the knight, then the king. (this is assuming 43 minute periods and 6th graders). After teaching the pawn, they play the pawn game. After teaching the rook bishop, and queen, they play a capturing game involving those three pieces plus the pawns, starting in their normal positions. I teach piece values simultaneously, and the objective of the game is to take more points than your opponent does.
     If you were going to slow it down, I would teach just the queen in the second lesson, and have the kids play the excellent game Pawns vs Queen, (starting from normal positions, but with the d2 pawn advanced to d3). In this game, the black queen wins if she captures all the pawns; the white pawns win if one gets to the eighth rank, even if the pawn can immediately be captures upon doing so. This fantastic game teaches concepts like the double attack by the queen, advancing the pawns together to defend each other, and how much more dangerous the furthest advanced pawn is.
     But when I teach the three pieces, rook bishop, queen, together, we practice their movement and captures by talking about which captures are best. This is really a bread and butter skill of chess, as capturing your opponent's pieces in the best possible way is 75% of playing well, and like all important skills, it needs to be taught explicitly.
     Consider the following position, removing the kings (chessbase won't let me save a position without them, but of course the kids have not learned the king yet).

The white queen can capture most of the pieces. I ask which black piece can the queen not capture.
I explain that the best capture is the one where you get the most points, and don't get recaptured. I then ask the kids to explain which pieces are protected, and how. I ask which pieces are not protected, and ask them to figure out which capture gets you the most points.
    Often my second lesson takes a little longer than I would like, because I have a lot to do in it (reviewing the pawn, teaching three pieces, piece value, how to set the 4 pieces up, modeling 5 moves practice of the game they are going to play on the demo board, letting the kids play, and then showing them how to figure out who won at the end). If you feel rushed, this lesson also works very well as the review of R, B, Q, P movement at the beginning of lesson 3.
    I do the same kind of thing after teaching the knight, for example:

Again, I ask which piece cannot be captured. Then I ask the students to talk through which pieces are defended and how, as well as how much each is worth. This gives us a chance to talk about how it's worth taking the defended queen over the free rook.
    Finally an example from "real chess"

And here you can compare Rxd8 with Qxa8, and depending on your class and time situation, maybe someone will point out that while Qxa8 looks better in isolation, you could have the best of both worlds by taking on d8 first and then taking on a8.

Friday, June 28, 2013

my (10-15) favorite lessons, part 1

Hello Blog Readers!
    Later this summer, I am doing a professional development for my friend Sean at Success Academy, and possibly also for some school in Canada, and one component I was envisioning was a couple of hours of "My Favorite Lessons" delivered at high speed. Some no-prep, easy-set-up, time-tested, pull-out-when-you-have-no idea-what-to-do-today guaranteed-success lessons.
    So to motivate myself to prepare them ahead of time, I thought I would share them with you.
    Here's the first:

Mate in 5
   This lesson teaches mating patterns, planning, piece coordination, and creativity.  It can be done as a large group lesson, in small groups or pairs, or as homework. It's good for multi-level classrooms, since it exposes beginners to a lot of checkmate practice, while advanced students can be given paper and pencil and asked to list as many solutions as they can find.
    In the position below, explain that white gets 5 moves in a row, while black doesn't get to move. Students are asked to find as many checkmates as possible.

Usually, you get a flood of answers at first, which then slows down. Depending on what they have found/not found, I then ask leading questions like
"You found a lot of checkmates on h7. Can you find some on g7?"
"Can you find a checkmate with a queen and bishop? Queen and knight? Queen and pawn?"
"Can you find a checkmate with two knights?" (This is also the only mate in 4 in the position)
"Can you find a checkmate using a bishop and pawn (or) using a pawn promotion?"

A Swedish visitor, Jesper Hall, showed me that lesson a few years ago, and it always works like a charm.

In other news, the pregnancy is going ok. It's getting a little annoying, lumbering around, having to hold on to stair railings, unable to lift even moderately heavy things or drink wine, but overall it's not so bad.
     I'm endlessly amused by the baby kicking me.
     I'm also having very vivid dreams, which is fun.
     Strangers are all extremely nice to me. People smile at me on the street, and let me go first. Everyone talks to me, wants to know my due date, and seems impressed it's a boy. I always get offered a seat on the subway (the hands-down winner of offering the seat? Chinese males age 18-30. They get up 100% of the time.)
     Here is a funny ultrasound picture (not mine):

see the cat?

   In non baby news, we moved up to the top two floors of our house (unbelievable how much space there is) and are remodeling it. Remodeling is fun, like playing design-your-fantasy-house, only for real. Here is the bathroom floor tile I picked out:
 and here is our kitchen backsplash:
Fun fun fun!

Also, Jonathan bought the largest fridge I have ever seen, and it dispenses water and ice from the door! I live in the lap of luxury! (or I will soon, when it's delivered).

      I've been reading a lot, because I spend a lot of time lying around. In the last month, I finished:
How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America (Otis Brawley)
The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents (Lorna Greenberg, Susan Terkel)
A World of Hurt: Fixing Pain Medicine's Biggest Mistake (Barry Meier)
The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger (Michael Blastland)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery (Bill Clegg)
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua)
The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius (Kristine Bartlett)
The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed State (Andrei Lankov)
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey (Blaine Harden)
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Pamela Druckerman)

They were all pretty-to-very-good, or I wouldn't have finished them. Except The Norm Chronicles, which was recommended in the Economist, disappointed me.

    That's all I have for you this evening. Hopefully I will blog 10-15 times in the next few weeks with brilliant lesson ideas for you. Also, I'll be attending the upcoming US Chess School and will take photos.