Ten years after helping develop the Chess merit badge, the Saint Louis Chess Club continues teaching the badge to hundreds of Scouts every year. In 2020, when the pandemic forced classes online, 476 Scouts from 35 states participated.
To learn more about teaching the badge, Scouting recently connected with Scholastic Manager Kyle Weber. Here are his top tips.
Check your credentials
Whatever you’re teaching, you need to know more than your students. Weber recommends counselors have an Elo score (a standard measure of proficiency) of 1200 or more, which puts them in roughly the 75th percentile of players.
“You have to have the chess skill to be able to adequately challenge and study with the kids,” he says. “If the kids are coming in and they’re kicking your butt all over the board, you’re not teaching them anything.”
Stretch your Scouts
While most Scouts are novices, some have been playing in tournaments for years. But those veterans still need a challenge.
“Because we have such huge, all-encompassing chess resources online, you can find puzzles and tactics that easily match the Scouts’ Elo or perceived rating,” Weber says.
A good example is National Master Caleb Denby’s video of the “Hardest Mate-in-One” on the club’s YouTube channel.
Teach the language
Scouts need to know the rules of chess, of course, but they also need to know how to “speak” chess. For example, “Bc4” means the bishop moves to the c4 square.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘take that piece’ or ‘move that piece,’” Weber says. “But move what piece where? We need to be very specific with our algebraic notation.”
(A great way to practice the language is with the club’s free Read & Write Chess workbook.)
Once everyone has mastered the basics, the sequencing of requirements becomes less important.
“I might be talking about how pieces move and capture, but I’m also embedding in these puzzles pins, forks and other tactics,” he says. “You’re always talking about opening principles in theory through every lesson.”
Count your Scouts
The Chess merit badge lends itself to group instruction since every Scout needs an opponent. Weber recommends even numbers of Scouts so the counselor doesn’t need to play.
“If I’m a merit badge counselor and I’m playing against a Scout, I have to focus one to one,” he says. “That’s fine, but doing that constantly, you’re missing out on all the other games.”
Weber feels comfortable teaching 16 Scouts in person but smaller numbers online.
“It’s also hard to find the kids who are quiet online because it’s easy to turn off your camera or mute yourself,” he says.
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