Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Teaching and Learning

What does an alligator dinner look like? The alligator is the tiny stuff at the top of the plate.

  I’ve been spending most of my free time the past month working on lectures for the chess camp I’ll be holding later this month with Jose Gatica and Bethany Carson. I wasn’t planning on having a chess camp this year but when the other chess camps in the state were announced, I started getting inquiries from many of the parents of children who came to my tournaments this year. Last year my camp was 2 6-hour days with a cost of $75. There are camps in Cedar Rapids and Ames this month run by the Wisconsin Chess Academy that are 5-8 hour days at a cost of around $250 dollars with lunch included (I only provide Sunny D, apple juice, fruit cups, and crackers). I thought that was pretty expensive until I noticed that USA Chess Camps is having a weeklong camp in West Des Moines at a cost of $255 for 5 3-hour days and $405 for 5 7-hour days (Lunch is not included) included). I didn’t want to leave the parents who support my tournaments the choice of spending hundreds of dollars on a chess camp or having no chess camp at all for their kids, so I made sure that Jose also wanted to do a camp and started setting it up in March.

  The USA Camp has a grandmaster on their staff and the Wisconsin Chess Academy has Fide Masters on their staff, but our camp won’t be short of star power. Jose won a share of the Iowa Chess Championship in April and Bethany is the 5 time Iowa Girls Champion, so I could be fully justified in calling my camp the ‘Champions of Iowa’ camp or something equally grandiose. Instead, I’m just calling it the ‘West Des Moines Chess Camp’. I kept the same price as last year, but we offered a $25 discount for anyone who came to any tournament Jose or I put on this past year. With 2 weeks to go, I have 31 paid campers and 30 are paying $50. There won’t be any t-shirts this year, but I’m happy to be able to offer a camp for $200 less than any other chess camp in the state. It may be 2 days instead of 5, but $200 could feed my family for 2 weeks, buy 2 ‘Big Bags’ of Cheetos Puffs a week, or get Daisy and Baxter a year’s supply of beef stick treats!

  Just because I’m having a 2-day camp and not a 5-day camp and I’m serving snacks instead of lunch doesn’t mean I don’t want to have the best camp I can. Matt had already made plans for the summer, but I was very lucky to get Bethany Carson as a guest instructor. Not only is she a very strong player, she is a product of Iowa chess and someone that the other campers can look up to as an example of what they can aspire to. I still have all the lessons we used last year but now that I have another year under my belt running youth tournaments and working at the chess club at St. Francis, I have a better idea of what players don’t know and what they need to learn to get to their next level and I’m designing my lessons accordingly. That’s part of the advantage of having campers whose chess skills I'm well acquainted with.

  I’ve been trying out some of my lessons on Alex (my new student). It was a big help to be able to preview what I’ll be going over in front of 30 people in 2 weeks. Alex would be in the advanced section of the camp and was able to pick up the material quickly and even helped me with the beginner sections by finding holes in some of my example positions, alternate solutions in others, and when he had difficulty with a concept it made me either find a better explanation or maybe remove it from the beginner section.

  Working on the camp has been a lot of work at the expense of working on my own chess game, but I’m hoping it will not only pay off with a fun chess camp, but also in my being able to see the chess board with ‘new eyes’ and I’ll be able to learn something new along with the campers.

  On the subject of learning something new, yesterday my boss took the programmers in our department to Buzzard Billy’s; a bar/game room/restaurant 2 blocks from work. I’ve never been in a Buzzard Billy’s before, but it looks like a typical Applebee’s type of place with most everything having Cajun seasoning. I looked over the menu and nothing really caught my eye until I noticed the Fried Alligator Dinner. I’d never eaten alligator before and I wasn’t paying so I decided to order it. Since it was more expensive than what everyone else was getting I offered to share my alligator with the rest of the group. While we were waiting for our meal, naturally the discussion turned to alligator and I mentioned that I’d seen my first episode of ‘Swamp People’ over the weekend. The episode of ‘Swamp People’ I saw showed these Cajun people hunting alligators in the swamps of Louisiana on boats and every couple of minutes a Cajun person catches an alligator on a hook and pulls it into the boat while his partner shouts ‘It’s a big one’ and shoots the poor alligator in the back of the head. The only redeeming quality to the show was when one of the Cajun hound dogs was sick and lethargic, so his owned cooked up a mess of jambalaya and fed it to the hound, who immediately perked up after he ate the gooey mess.

  After a few minutes, our food came and there was tiny bits of my alligator spread out to the side of the plate (to look like there was more that what was really there) with a huge bowl of coleslaw (with a spoon instead of a fork in the bowl), a pile of thick cut French fries, and 2 hush puppies. One of my co-workers pointed to the hush puppies and asked what they were and I immediately replied ‘alligator balls’. The alligator was mostly breading and what meat there was seemed pretty chewy and reminded me more like the gristly part of a steak than chicken. I learned that I don’t like alligator meat very much. All in all, I’m glad to say I’ve eaten alligator, gladder to say I didn’t pay for it, and doubt I’ll ever have it again.