By Erika Webb
Despite what that high school math teacher said, decades of adulthood have passed with little or no reason to determine what y represents.
Strategy, problem solving, patience, self-control and emerging victorious from battle ... those all are required before 10 a.m. at the office, in an hour at the grocery store, even at home while cooking dinner and urging the kids through homework.
Could it be chess, not algebra, that holds the key to obtaining necessary life skills?
Steve Lampkin thinks so and he travels all over Volusia County getting kids excited about the "game of kings."
As the co-director of Daytona Beach Learning Rx Brain Training Center, a former school board member in North Tonawanda, N.Y., and a person in possession of an all-around fascination with the brain, Mr. Lampkin has spent nearly his whole life looking at how people learn.
His father taught him to play chess when Mr. Lampkin was 8 years old. He had some natural ability and continued to play throughout his school years. In his 20s, he played in chess tournaments. It wasn't until his own son became interested that Mr. Lampkin began to look at chess as a learning tool.
"In New York, when I was on the school board, I started looking at how we were teaching kids things but not looking at how they learned," Mr. Lampkin said. "We developed a thinking skills curriculum using chess. What we saw in that district, we saw standardized test scores go up over seven years."
The program, he said, started with teaching all third graders to play chess. Initially developed for one school, it quickly spread to schools throughout the district.
That was in the early '90s. When Mr. Lampkin moved to Port Orange in 2000, he wanted to expand on what he'd learned about helping children exercise their brains.
He started by volunteering to run a chess club at the Port Orange Library two days a week. For more than six years, he's been teaching a morning chess class at the Wise Private School in Port Orange. He facilitated after school programs at Pathways Elementary in Ormond Beach and Chisholm Elementary in New Smyrna Beach.
"Chisholm Elementary started an after school program last year with great success; they are planning on having a team compete in the national championships this December in Orlando," he said.
Carolena Saccone helped found the after school program at Chisholm.
"I was one of four mothers of children in the gifted program," Ms. Saccone said. "We founded a program to give gifted children what they need, because six hours a day just wasn't enough for them.
Chess is one of five after school activities the students now enjoy.
Ms. Saccone said Mr. Lampkin was amazed at how quickly the students caught on and their motivation.
"He said he felt our gifted learners are ready for tournaments, so we're raising money now for the tournament in Orlando," Ms. Saccone said. "We're not in the most affluent zip code, so to be the first to have (this opportunity) in Volusia ... we're just very proud."
Mr. Lampkin didn't stop there.
On Oct. 19, his non-profit organization, Creating Higher Educational Success in Schools, or CHESS, will host the DeLand Chess Tournament Scholastic Chess Challenge at Children's House Montessori School.
"It's a beginners' tournament to get them started and used to playing in a tournament," he explained.
"Kids in general really like chess, especially at the elementary level," Mr. Lampkin said. "It's fun to see the progression and nice to see the aha moment when they jump in skills. For a while it doesn't seem like they're getting very far, just moving pieces around, then something clicks."
He said tournament chess takes the player to a whole different level, and perseverance pays off.
"One kid at the Port Orange Library started at five years old. In five or six years, he hardly ever won any games," Mr. Lampkin said. "Now, he's a very good player. He's rated higher than I am right now."
Though there are chess prodigies, Mr. Lampkin said it's a common misconception that one has to have natural ability or above average intelligence to play chess.
"It's more of a learned skill," he explained. "The people who work at it and practice the most get good at it."
Studies are proving that learning chess improves other skills.
In a Pennsylvania study conducted by Dr. Robert Ferguson during the 1995-1996 school year, students in the chess program obtained significantly higher reading scores at the end of the year than those in the control group who had more reading instruction than the chess groups, according to findings published by the University of Alabama Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility.
Wise Private School Principal Rita Wise said students who've been participating in Mr. Lampkin's Monday morning chess classes are more focused and more confident.
"Parents are telling me their students are much better readers since they've been doing chess with him," Ms. Wise said. "Their math skills are improving because it slows them down and they can do math without hurrying through it. They're getting so they can concentrate better on things."
She said some of the students in the chess group have learning disabilities and felt limited.
"Now they're realizing there are a lot of things they can do," Ms. Wise said.
Mr. Lampkin is an avid learner, largely self-taught through reading and taking online classes in whatever interests him. He operates on intuition a lot of the time but takes responsibility by objectively testing his theories.
"Now, because of new brain research, I understand better why it works," Mr. Lampkin said. "It's training the brain, not teaching ... like kids actually doing exercise. In a gym program, the teacher doesn't just say 'this is how you exercise.' The kids get out and play the games. Kids are competitive and they want to win. Chess develops synapses in the brain and makes you be a better thinker."
He feels the prevalence of ADD and ADHD in today's society is attributable to immediate feedback.
"Kids don't have to pay attention like they used to," Mr. Lampkin said. "Kids don't play board games that much anymore. They have to sustain attention to sit there and play. I've seen six or seven year olds sit two to three hours and play chess."
In 2011, the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis hosted the launching of the Boy Scouts of America Chess Merit Badge.
"The Boy Scouts of America recognize (chess) as a worthwhile endeavor," said Mr. Lampkin who helps local troops with the badge as well.
Ten big brain benefits of playing chess, according to chessvibe.com are:
It can raise one's IQ
Helps prevent Alzheimer's
Exercises both sides of the brain
Increases problem solving skills
Improves reading skills
Grows dendrites, the tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells into the neurons they are attached to.
"Think of them like antennas picking up signals from other brain cells. The more antennas you have and the bigger they are, the more signals you'll pick up," the article stated.
Finally, and particularly important in today's society, chess teaches planning and foresight
"Having teenagers play chess might just save their lives," the article noted.
It goes on to explain:
"It goes like this: one of the last parts of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment and self-control. So adolescents are scientifically immature until this part develops. Strategy games like chess can promote prefrontal cortex development and help them make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making a stupid, risky choice of the kind associated with being a teenager."