Ho Math Chess Research and Articles > Teaching Dyscalculia Children Using Chess

22 Dec 2009


Teaching Dyscalculia Children Using Chess
Frank Ho
Canada certified math teachers at Ho Math and Chess Learning Centre
 December 2009
I start to understand dyscalculia after I taught some children who had math disabilities. I got very strange feeling when teaching those children - it did not matter how I taught using manipulatives or concrete examples, their progresses were not in proportion to the time I spent with them. After I did research in dyscalculia, I started to create worksheets for those students. My worksheets created were specifically tested by those students having dyscalculia and modified after I observed their responses.
I observed a grade-3 girl when I taught her times table, she worked hard and paid attention when I was teaching her but she just could not remember times table, so I kept creating sheets to suit her interest. I discovered that she did not like the traditional worksheets. She had trouble to remember the products despite she kept working on worksheets. This girl is now grade 8 and still has problem with word problems although her computational skills have improved.
One grade-1 boy could do 2 + 1=3, 1 + 2 = 3, 3 – 1 =2, 3 – 2 =1, but when he progressed to a bit larger numbers like 5 + 2 = 7 he still could manage 2 + 5 = 7, 7 – 2 = 5 but when asked 7 – 5, he answered 10 and when asked again he still gave a number larger than 7. When I explained to him that 7 takes away something then the result should be smaller, he could not spot the mistake and was not able to correct it. He added slowly and paused a lot to give answers. He said, “ The worksheets are boring.” Yet he was not able to quickly finish them. He likes chess and puzzle-like worksheets.
Another grade-4 girl I taught could not understand what is the total of 2 of $10 bills plus one $5 despite I showed her real bills.
My observations of some of these children who had dyscalculia are:
1.     They made no responses or explanations when asked why they gave wrong answers (even though they were not told the answers were wrong.). They seem to be confused themselves. Their responses were very lively when they knew the answers correctly. They were not aware that they had given a very illogical answer.
2.     They do not seem to be able to recall information been taught to them even a few minutes ago.
3.     The do not like repetitive problems despite the fact that they could not do them.
4.     They complained about worksheets, which they thought are boring, yet they were not able to finish them fast if they are boring.
5.     Very little dialogue or reply when they could not perform well.
6.     Very little facial expression or body language when they could not do math and in contrast, they seem to change to a different person when they start to play chess.
So why some children having dyscalculia seem to be more interested in chess (especially playing against someone) than math? My observations are:
1.     Chess allows them to make mistakes or blunders. In contrast, when working on math problems such as 4 + 2, the answer must be 6, unlike chess; there are no other choices for solutions.
2.     When working on math, children work alone but in chess (when play against a human), they must find someone working with them. There is a dialogue going on between players for a social game.
3.     The other player is competing against but the opponent is also “guiding” them to not make the same mistake next time, this is not happening in math when working on math worksheets.
With the above scenery in mind, we may create some math worksheets, which could allow children to explore, just like chess, and be “guided” for a solution. This kind of chess-based math worksheets must also have the capability to reinforce repetitive computation but not cause boredom. This process of finding answers makes children feel it is fun.
We are developing more chess game-based worksheets so that children not only improve their computing ability, it also removes the symptoms of dyscalculia and enhances their brain power since they have to find the problems themselves by following “guides” or “directions”.
We think that Ho Math and Chess has found a key to help those children who have dyscalculia to improve their math ability.

Frank Ho