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Scholastic Chess Series: Chess Basics, Chess Openings 1, Chess Tactics 1, and Chess Strategies 1 (one book and DVD for each) Review by Donna Campos

Stephen A. Schneider
Teachable Tech, Inc.
3565 Evans Road
Atlanta, GA 30340

The Scholastic Chess Series components included for this review are the Chess Basics Workbook and DVD (1 hours long), the Chess Openings 1 Workbook and DVD (1 hour long), the Chess Tactics 1 Workbook and DVD (1 hours long), and the Chess Strategies 1 Workbookroms are available through the website to aid in multiple student use of the material. Throughout the DVD series, a "demonstration Chess board" is used; although it is not included in this review, it is available to be purchased alone or as part of various packages sets available on the website. The demonstration board is not essential, but a chess board of adequate condition will be necessary for playing games and demonstrating moves. Also, various notation sheets are discussed within the program and should be printed as required. Regardless of age, beginning students will find the Chess Basics Workbook to be ideal, although non-readers will require assistance. Two players will be necessary for realistic practice and understanding of the game, and the books include suggestions for organization of group play within a chess club. and DVD (1 hour long). Each workbook is a glossy softcover ranging from 146 to 196 pages. Each interior includes black print on white pages with extensive grayscale diagrams and illustrations. Instruction on the DVDs is provided by chess coach Stephen A. Schneider, the author of the book series. Chess is a life-long activity, providing hours of enjoyment. The game also has many benefits, including improving math and reading scores and teaching players to observe, consider, eliminate options, and choose the best possible move. Depending on skill level, a person could choose to begin with one of the upper-level components, or you could simply work through the entire series to build a basis for a more advanced understanding of the game. The workbooks are consumable; they are not "lay flat" books to be copied. Printable CD-

Using a very straightforward approach, "Coach Steve" jumps right into the basics. The Chess Basics Workbook explains in very simple terms the board, the eight ranks (numbered one through eight), the eight files (marked "a" through "h"), and the diagonals. Students view a lesson on the DVD and then complete an activity. Answers are on the page following each activity. The book is easy to follow. Every chess piece is explained thoroughly, with possible moves and placement on the board. The end of the book includes a Glossary, a Resources List, a Certificate of Achievement, and a Workbook Guide with Study Guide and Video Chart. The video segments are short and to the point, with musical pauses between to allow the viewer to pause and practice moves. An "It's Your Turn" screen lists the activity or game to be completed at each break.

The second book in the series, The Chess Openings 1 Workbook, is set up similarly to the first. Chess notation and a full understanding of movements throughout the board are thoroughly covered in this book. This book includes a Notation Sheet that will be referenced throughout the remainder of the series. A vast amount of information is covered in this one book, including the incredibly large variety of openings available in the game. Students will learn the Two Knights defense, The Fork Trick, The Fried Liver Attack, the Power of the Pin, and more.

The Chess Tactics 1 Workbook is the third in the series and includes over 200 challenging puzzles in the nine sections. This installment includes information on chess piece values and the definitions of a Material vs. Positional advantage in the game. Three helpful charts are explained in this book, including the "Tactics Tool: Move Analysis Flowchart," "Game Analysis Score Sheet" in both a blank and filled example, and a "Puzzle Analysis Think Sheet," which allows the student to work through more options to decide which move would be best. It is stressed in the workbook that the "Game Analysis Score Sheet" is to be used for practice only and is illegal during tournament play. Finding free pieces and scoping out your opponent's possibilities are key in learning tactics. This book discusses all the different kinds of moves and provides opportunities for students to practice and analyze the positions, pieces, and moves. With each move demonstration, a sheet pops onto the screen showing how to mark the move on a notation sheet--incredibly helpful. Skewered and shielded pieces, forks, pins, and "piling on" are all explained and demonstrated, and the student is taught systematically how to think through the best moves.

The Endgame Strategies Workbook is divided into four parts with chapters within each; then it closes with the Glossary, Resources List, Certificate, and Parent's Workbook Guide and Video chart, similar to the other books in the series. There is no blank Notation Sheet in either of the last two books, although they are referenced throughout. More involved game scenarios (including basic checkmates and various endgames) are covered with good explanations and option demonstrations. The student will learn about "two rooks walking," "a smothered mate," "sixth rank exception," connected and split pawns, and endgames with a Knight vs. Pawn and a Queen vs. Bishop-Pawn.

Each DVD in the series begins with an introduction to "Coach Steve" and quickly moves into the material to be learned. His teaching style feels very much like a friend is walking you through the various aspects of chess. The Video Charts in the workbooks are excellent, as they list each video segment with its start and end time and the appropriate workbook pages with activity number. The placement of reverse cards to demonstrate move options during the DVD lessons was an excellent technique; we substituted small dice on a table board as we were not using the demonstration chess board. Students using this series will learn many interesting chess terms and skills, such as pawn chain, stonewall, the importance of controlling the center, candidate moves, rank and file, pawn games, pawn battery, pinning piece, castling, and endgame. Even experienced chess players will learn helpful information to improve their game. We thoroughly enjoyed the instruction and the fact that chess is a game with no age barrier. Adults and children are able to play together, learn from one another, and improving their skills. Homeschool co-ops are an ideal setting for using the Scholastic Chess Series with a group, building a Chess Club, or planning tournament play. Learning how to play chess affords an opportunity for special needs students to play with others in a quiet environment. For those with sensory processing needs, the separate space, predictable process, the possibility of controlling the environment, and the very limited physical contact, can offer social interaction without the inherent difficulties associated with playground play. And of course, the skills developed through playing chess will positively influence other cognitive areas, such as mathematics, reading, and science.

The often demonstrated Notation sheet is available in a blank version only in the second book of the series, Chess Openings 1. This could be frustrating for those who choose to use only a portion of the series. However, basic chess Notation sheets are easily found via the Internet. In a society strongly influenced by video games, computer use, and lack of physical exercise, chess may not be a primary choice for many parents today. However, it has many advantages. Our son has a difficult time playing outside because of his special needs, but he can play chess with another adult, with a physically handicapped child, or with older children in our home.

"Coach Steve" Schneider and the Teachable Tech, Inc. partners have designed an incredible program in the Scholastic Chess Series of Workbooks and DVDs. For children struggling in math and reading, learning the game of Chess has a proven record of increasing test scores and mathematical understanding. Families will enjoy playing chess together, learning from one another, and viewing these training DVDs together as they improve their skills. Children will find grand opportunities to make and build friendships with the simple invitation to play a game of chess.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2008