Recognizing Outstanding Wizards - January 2020

By Catherine Smith, Wizard Training Coordinator and Instructor in WA

Robin McQuinn, WA

Robin is a lead instructor in WA who has been teaching with Chess Wizards for over a year. Her sense of humor and work ethic are two of the things that schools and students both love about Robin. She puts her heart and soul into each class, and will always help out whenever she can, be it subbing for other instructors, training new instructors, or teaching classes that we really need her to teach. She does everything with a great sense of humor and a wonderful attitude. Robin is someone you can always learn something from, and her unique style is appreciated. 

Thank you so much Robin for all your wonderful teaching at Chess Wizards. You make a big difference to the students in the chess classroom, and you are appreciated by many people! Keep on being awesome!


Interview with Robin

1. Who are you, where do you come from, where are you going?

I am a seasoned, retired and recovering geologist and an intensely stereotypical west coast-ling.   I grew up on the west coast, and left it long enough to actually appreciate a ‘winter' that is drizzling for four months.   I raft guide, coach competitive swimming, teach kayaking, science and chess!  I’m a devout scientist and humanist; a deep believer in the illimitable capacities of human beings (to do stupid things if a camera is rolling).  


2. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started teaching?

If I have a student that is loud or ‘above' the class somehow, I will often have them prep and run a lesson, guiding them with questions and charades. I’m flabbergasted by how often a student explains something in a way I never considered before, that clicks with the other kids!   As if they need someone to translate it into their language - kid-ish?   


3. What is the most exciting experience you have had while playing or teaching chess?

I had a class bouncing off the walls - imagine Lord of the Flies in Dante’s Inferno.  During the lesson I made a casual reference to the Wheat and Chessboard problem.  The smallest most ‘spirited’ boy, asked me what that was, and I launched into the story about Sessa and the invention of chess …. And you could have heard a pin drop on a pillow for the entire 15 minutes.  You would think the kids had been drugged the way they listened…. I have used stories in the lessons ever since.   


4. How do you motivate your students to succeed?

Every way possible!  Bribery is my favorite.  - Stickers, prizes, trophies, tournament success, life fulfilment, world peace - anything that drives them.   


5. What is your most memorable memory from your time as a Chess Wizard?

I was a jester at a Halloween festival and while I was running with the dry ice bubble mountain, I was spotted by a little girl.  Her mother snagged me as I cantered past, accosting me with the nicest possible story about how much chess had changed her daughter’s life, her daughter shyly beaming the whole time and my bubble mountain erupting in my hands, covering its cauldron and my costume in soapy carbon dioxide.  I have never been as honored... or as clean.   The little girl was a Chess Queen for Halloween.   


6. If you could retire tomorrow and never have to worry about money again, what would you do with your time?

I would do this! And maybe open my own school for Sciences and Humanities, high in the cascades - teach construction of advanced fireworks, and Hogwarts Wizards Chess Strategies?   


7. What’s your go-to technique for dealing with ‘handful’ students?

I usually pair them with a calm, older student, ideally of another gender, and tell them to keep a close eye on the older kid.  That or bribe them with stickers, points and trophies.  


8. What is an unusual place you have been to?

I once worked at an orangutan rehab facility in Borneo. I have protested for democracy in Myanmar. Excavated some of the world’s largest dinosaurs in Montana, and squared off against the world’s most poisonous snakes and slobbery camels in the outback.   


9. Do you have a talent that not many people know about?

I know 20 ways to roll a kayak.  Haven’t needed but one, though. 


10. What’s your #1 teaching tip?

Like a salesman, reporter or a movie trailer, I have to sell them on why they should care, before I get into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of any technique or trick.  I start every lesson with an outlandish claim and teaser - ‘You can beat your dad at Chess in just 4 moves… want to know how??’  Or maybe “Sometimes in chess you can capture a queen for free! Can you keep a secret?”   


11. What’s your favorite classroom Attention Getter? 

I love variations on ‘waterfall; flat tire!  Lava in water!  Chess Arbiter!  Pressure Cooker!  Tesla driving by!   


12. What is something interesting that you’re involved in, outside of Chess Wizards?

I teach science with Mad Science, and STEM of Sky Diving at iFly, and they all feed back into each other!   


13. If you saw a kangaroo and a chimpanzee playing chess what would you do? Who do you think would win? 

Call my psychiatrist and tell them, “We got the dosage wrong again”.   And no one wins, as it never ends. There can never be a stop…. To skipping, hopping, tripping fancy free and gay, we’ve started it tomorrow and we’ll finish yesterday.  


14. Star Wars, Star Trek, or they’re both lame?

Star Wars!