Checkmate: Chess as a Catalyst for Shaping a Collective Learning Experience in Curriculum

Person playing chess

When preparing to teach a graduate-level curriculum and assessment in physical education & health education course, the question arose: “What is the best way to teach future educators about curriculum and assessment?” Instructional designer, Katie Hanifin, had the idea of providing students with a collective learning experience during the first two weeks of the semester—students would learn about the game of Chess while also learning about the essential components of a curriculum. Chess was chosen as the topic to place learners outside of their “comfort zone.” The collective learning experience was set up so students would learn about different components of the curriculum. The mini-curriculum that was designed for the collective learning experience consisted of goals and objectives, essential questions, research, prioritized content, core vocabulary, skills, experiences/activities, and assessments. The goal of the learning experience was for students to learn, understand, and appreciate the game of Chess.

Two weeks of learning and assessment were designed using the game of Chess and included the primary curriculum and assessment components. All of this occurred without explaining why students were doing this. “You have a plan and are teaching us something; we just do not know what yet. I am not sure what you are up to, but I know you are up to something,” one student commented early into the experience.

Over the next two weeks, students participated in different activities and assignments relating to the collective learning experience. On day one, they completed a pretest to determine their prior Chess knowledge. For many, they did not have much experience with Chess. Their first task was to answer two essential questions: How do you set up a chess board for play? What are the pieces called and how do they move? The students were provided with little instruction on what needed to be done for this assignment other than they needed to answer the two questions and they would be instructing sample students at the end of the week. The students spent the rest of the week preparing a mini-lesson for the sample students, which included researching the content and deciding how to teach the sample students. Students used various methods to teach their students, such as PowerPoints, gaming, storytelling, hand-drawn pictures, and video clips. After, we discussed how the same information was taught differently. One student said, “It was interesting to see all of the different ways we each taught this information to the students; just hearing the different ways reinforces that there is not just one way to do things, there are multiple ways.”

After the students taught the lesson to their sample students, they had to answer the following questions: What are the rules? How do you win? What are some basic Chess strategies? Students then had to research the answers to these questions. Once they researched the answers to these questions, they then taught each other about the different strategies used in Chess by playing against each other and discussing the approaches. Students completed various assignments and participated in different learning activities during this time. In the last learning experience class, they played Chess against each other, which was the culminating activity that brought it all together.

After the collective learning experience, students wrote a reflective paper about the experience and explained the different curriculum components they had learned. On the last day, they also completed a post-test, the same assessment they took the first day—there was a significant improvement in all scores. After students submitted their reflective papers, there was a class discussion about the experience and the different curriculum components. For example, they discussed the various assessments that were used and how the gameplay on the last day was a summative assessment to determine if they could set the chess board up, play the game while following the rules, and use different strategies.

When discussing the experience, one student mentioned, “This experience was different, and I really liked it because it was not something I have done at Utica University. It was not just, ‘Here is what you have to do,’ it was, ‘Here are different parts to a puzzle, and you need to figure out the deeper meaning.’ I enjoyed it, and I want to implement it into future classes and lessons.” Another student commented that being out of their comfort zone reminded them of how to break things down when teaching students physical education.

So how does this collective learning experience relate to what they would be doing in the classroom? The learning experience was specifically designed with the different components of a curriculum in mind while providing the students with meaningful examples. Students eventually took the information they learned throughout the experience and developed their own curriculums. During the next six weeks of the semester, students worked with a partner and developed their own Lifetime Health and Fitness course for college students. They were given weekly tasks and had one class as a workshop day. They submitted different sections of the curriculum each week and were provided with feedback by the professor. Peer feedback was also incorporated by having students share their ideas with their classmates. In the end, each student had at least a 50-page curriculum they had created while learning about the process of curriculum development and what goes into a curriculum. The final piece of the project was presenting the curriculum they created to faculty and staff. The students made a PowerPoint or Google Site to present the information about their curriculum. It was framed that they would present this curriculum to administrators to adopt the course as part of the general education curriculum. Overall, this has been a great project, and we have received positive feedback from the students, faculty, and staff. This assignment provides students with authentic and meaningful knowledge to transfer into their teaching, and they can also add it to their portfolios as an impressive artifact of their work.

As a result of the collective learning experience, many students enjoyed the game of Chess and continued to play it throughout the semester. This project has been implemented for three semesters and it improves each semester.

Megen Hemstrought, EdD, is an assistant professor of physical education, exercise and wellness studies at Utica University. Hemstrought is also a member of SHAPE America Physical Education Council and a member of the New York State Professional Council for Physical Education (PPCPE).

Katie Hanifin, MSEd, is an instructional designer.