28 March 2014

Chess at the Science Fair

How does chess connect to science?

A little over a month ago, I received an email soliciting my participation in an elementary school science fair. The email had been sent to the president of the Spokane Chess Club and he forwarded it to me. Without a clear sense of what I should do, I said that I could help.

The school started using the First Move curriculum this year. One of the teachers thought that having chess would be a nice addition to the science fair. Initially, I thought that I would set up a table with a chess set and answer questions. The day before the event, some ideas for a poster popped into my head. I made the poster in two hours that night.

During the fair itself, I played chess with a succession of children. Most of them were second and third graders who learn chess in their classrooms on Fridays. A few were older children and one adult wanted to play near the end of the evening. None of them were strong chess players, but only one seemed unclear on how the pieces move. The children knew how to set up the chessboard. The only error in set-up stemmed from having the White pieces on the first and second rank of a board with coordinates printed around the edges. "Queen goes on diamond," the student said, meaning the d-file. I told her the board's notation was misprinted and suggested "queen on color" as a more reliable guide.

While playing, I noticed a few people looking at my poster. The poster itself was text heavy. The text was small--12 and 14 point mostly. I included four chess diagrams connected to problems.

Yesterday's Chess Skills post was something I created for the poster. I also had:

White checkmates in two moves (three solutions)

White checkmates in ten moves (twenty-two optimal first moves)

Black checkmates in six moves (one solution)

My poster claimed chess has implications for science, math, and computing. First Move identifies other areas of the curriculum as well, such as reading.

I offered a few bullet points relating to math and computing, as well as a short statement concerning the science of memory.
Scientists who study human memory often study chess players. They have learned that eidetic memory (photographic memory) is of minimal value for chess players, but that pattern recognition is a strength of chess masters. World Champion Magnus Carlsen claims to remember the ideas (patterns) from 10,000 complete games that he has studied. 
Much of education psychology (what teachers must learn to learn to teach) is rooted in work that grew out of study of chess players.
Several bullets concerning math and computing highlighted tablebases.
Solving Chess
Every possible position with seven or fewer pieces have been solved by computers. These solutions are stored in files called tablebases.
1980s Three and four piece tablebases
1990s Five piece tablebases
2005 Six piece tablebases
2012 Seven piece 
Eight piece tablebases may be many years away. 
Tablebase Storage Problems
3-4 piece require 30 Megabytes
5 piece require 7.05 Gigabytes
6 piece require 1.2 Terabytes
7 piece require 140 Terabytes
If you were designing a poster for an elementary science fair or similar public presentation, what would you highlight?

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