Go In the Schools: The Middle Game

Developing a Go Curriculum and Keeping Students Enthusiastic about Go

The Second of three articles on Teaching Go By Sasha Orr

Once you have negotiated the political hurdles successfully (see Part One) and have begun teaching go in your public school classroom with the endorsement of the school administration, you are ready to look at how to expand your curriculum beyond teaching the rudiments of how to play go.

Go as Mathematics

Go is a natural as an addition to the math curriculum. Our district's fifth grade curriculum requires that I teach geometric shapes and pattern recognition. Joseki and endgame problems easily satisfy this objective. Utilizing problems from go books, or making up my own, I challenge my students to find good responses to stimulating situations which I display on my large magnetic demo board. They work as teams, discussing problems, trying out solutions on their own go boards and finally sharing conclusions with the class, demonstrating their ideas on the demo board. Gradually students begin to recognize common joseki as we work these problems out together.

After a couple of months' instruction, some students begin volunteering to author go problems for us to solve together in this way. Although answers to their problems may be less definitely obvious, it is good for children to learn that original problems may demand brand new solutions and that correctness is often more a matter of opinion than fact. Since these opinions are drawn from the collective expertise and creativity of our team of problem-solvers, these exercises help to develop self-confidence in judgment and decision-making among children.

These discussions always touch on another piece of the math curriculum; students should be able to recognize a logical sequence and need to develop a beginner's understanding of "if/then" statements which exemplify cause and effect. Conversations such as, "If Black plays here, then White takes ... and if White takes, then he puts his whole group into atari," are commonplace in these sessions.

Another much-loved learning tool is to allow two students to play a game (usually I wait until a classroom tournament play-off game) which is simultaneously posted on the demo board. This takes a team effort to accurately reproduce the game in real time on the big board. One student calls off White's moves, utilizing coordinates marked on their playing board. Another calls off Black's moves. Two more students are assigned to place stones at these call-off locations (one for each color). Another two students keep these stone-placers supplied with the stones they need. Finally, two more students are assigned to watch all of this and double-check that no errors are made in game replication.

Although this may seem a bit unduly complicated, my students enjoy this level of participation in the game, and it adds a level of seriousness to the importance of each stone played. The trick in all of this, however, is to keep calling and double-checking comments quiet enough so that the two players are not distracted in the playing of their game. Practicing all of this is necessary before a game actually commences.

This whole exercise dovetails nicely with another portion of the fifth grade math curriculum; students are expected to learn how to place points at coordinates on a grid, as an introduction to graphing equations. Although board positions F-7 and J-17 are not identical to the ordered pairs of (6,7) and (9,17), the one skill quickly translates to the other.

As these replicated games proceed, I pick half a dozen junctures to comment on developments or potential moves. The players recess to the seclusion of the hallway during these game breaks so that my comments do not influence their play. Discussions of territorial boundaries and counting potential points tie in cleanly with our district's curriculum for measurement and for calculating the area of enclosed two-dimensional solids. During these game recesses, I also allow other students to share their observations about the game in progress. These teaching moments are often the most effective that I see. Light bulbs go off over kids' heads like ball tightening sparking with a god's fury from Thor's anvil!

Beyond Mathematics

Although I had been given the nod to teach go as a part of my math program, I was reluctant to expand my teachings with an exclusive focus on the analytic, problem-solving and pattem-recognition aspects of the game, which the study of mathematics embraces. With only so many hours of contact time with elementary students for daily instruction in all subject areas, I decided that I might run into a problem justifying my go program if it continually inflated my math curriculum as it expanded in scope. This expansion would necessarily require cuts in other curriculum areas in order to accommodate increased time demands. I therefore decided to approach this task with caution. I certainly did not want to undermine my political success up to this point by drawing criticism for unjustified program cuts in mandated curriculum outside the field of mathematics.

After a little thought, my solution to this quandary became obvious - in order for my go program to grow, it had to branch out into other content areas.

Go as Language Arts

National standardized reading tests (such as the "Iowa Test" or the "California Achievement Test") have routinely shown most students scoring significantly lower in informational reading and writing (in comparison with scores for fictional selections). Consequently, most schools (including mine) have building-wide achievement objectives to significantly increase student achievement in these two areas. Making this objective a target was an obvious choice for me in my effort to expand our go curriculum into the language arts content area.

I do this by teaching my students the basics of technical writing. Topics include avoiding ambiguity, use of logic, conciseness, focusing on a specific topic and reader analysis. I ask my students to apply these technical writing skills to their record-keeping within their personal go journals. Each game played has to be assessed and written about in detail. When a student writes a vague entry such as, "I lost because Sheila played stronger than me," I help him to reconstruct his game experience into a more quantifiable teaming experience and then require that he rewrite that entry, reflecting this clearer understanding.

I also provide students with reading material including go maxims, go proverbs and go terminology definitions. I then prompt students to interpret what they are reading and explain their ideas to the class. The demo board is often used by students to exemplify their interpretations. This translating of written language into meaningful applications is exactly the sort of practice students need to improve their informational reading scores.

Periodically I give students a quiz on go definitions, in which they must draw a line, matching a written concept to the correct term. These quizzes help remind my students that go is not just a game we play, but that it is part of their required studies.

Each year, a handful of my students even begin borrowing from my library of go books. Students voluntarily selecting informational reading texts for their own personal reading enjoyment is certainly hitting the school's reading objective smack on the head of the nail.

Go as Social Studies

When we study go terminology, I use the Japanese go terms as our spelling list for the week. (I hope to introduce Chinese and Korean words one day, but have not yet found English language go books that represent these languages.) We study the Japanese pronunciation of these words as well.

These lessons tie in nicely with our school district's focus on "teaching a multi-cultural curriculum." Our district believes that students sampling segments of foreign cultures from year to year is essential in the development of respect for all nationalities and ethnic groups.

I also teach a world religions unit to my students, and when studying Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto we explore tie-ins to go-playing and go etiquette. Students are particularly fascinated with comparisons of the symbol and concept of "yin and yang" with the shapes that emerge in go.

When we begin internet go-playing, our lessons in etiquette pay off. My students learn to speak politely and directly, avoiding American slang. They seek to develop a relationship with their opponent that is respectful of variations in cultural perspectives. We also team to avoid making erroneous assumptions that could easily result from different usages of English (the international language standard on the Internet Go Server). I teach my students that they are ambassadors for the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that they must represent our 100,000 citizens appropriately.

Presently, we are in the process of developing a sister-go-school relationship with a classroom in Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Our correspondences have been a valuable experience for us in international diplomacy.

We also branch out into another domain of social studies: world geography. My students maintain a map on which they place colored pins at each new city they visit over the internet. We now have multiple pins on all continents, except for Antarctica. (Go-playing penguin researchers, look us up on IGS, please - send a message to "sasha.")

Go as Technology in the Classroom

Our district's current focus on "infusion of technology in the classroom" is met in out classroom at such a high level that few schools can begin to compare with us. In conjunction with our main technological enterprise of intemet go, playing, my students also design and maintain a database in which all IGS games are recorded. Fields created and maintained include player names, ranks, points scored, city, state/province, country, comments about games and even age and occupation when such information is respectfully acquired.

In another venue, students participate in e-mail correspondences with some of their go-playing friends or with mentors they have met on the Go Server.

Integrating the Curriculum

In this article I have broken down separate curriculum categories for varying aspects involved in teaching go. In practice, I avoid this separation. By integrating lessons I find I can cover more bases of the required curriculum than I ever could with discreetly taught individual sections. A go bulletin board created by students last year, for example, included bits and pieces of 91 of the above types of go activities and lessons. Its artwork added even another curriculum dimension, as a matter of fact.

It may seem as if we are playing a lot of games during school hours, but put into the context of an integrated curriculum, it is amazing how much good work we are getting done in one fell swoop!

In Part Three we will examine the next sset of challenges -- How do you reach out to a hyperactive student? Can you expand your program beyond teaching go at your own grade level? How do you keep students playing go after they graduate from your class? How do you manage discipline while maintaining a high level of spirited fun?

Sasha Orr is a fifth grade teacher in the Ann Arbor public schools and winner of the 1996 American Go Foundation Teacher of the Year award.

-- from the American Go Journal, Volume 31:1, pp. 29-33.