Storytelling & Mathematics

In my final year at Santa Fe High School in 2015, the Innovation Academy that I was a part of … called on teachers to think outside the box on how to teach mathematics content. One topic that I always found interesting was how to leverage math concepts as allegory and/or satire of world events, for example, like Sir Edward Abbot Abbot’s Flatland. Flatland was a satire on Victorian society, and Abbot was a geometry teacher. So, the students in my Geometry class read Flatland, read a newer version/retelling of it, watched the original movie from the 1960s, and then watched a mid-2000s spin-off … and then began writing our own stories.

It is impossible to share all the primer activities that I did with the class, the seminar discussions after watching/reading the movies/books, etc., but suffice to say we talked about allegory, satire, depersonalizing, humor, and other concepts quite a bit. I co-developed a lot of the brainstorming methods that the students used to develop their own stories with John Morrisson, a history teacher who co-led the Innovate Academy. Later, John and I presented our work and the student artifacts (which speak for themselves), at the MidSchoolMathematics Conference in 2016.

At that conference, I made a claim that my students district summative assessment scores were significantly raised by having had this experience. One teacher that attended our MSM workshopt said I provided no evidence of that claim at the conference, and that’s true – that was not the point of the presentation. However, at that time, I had access to district level data, and these data included mean scores of my cohort compared to the mean scores of other cohorts across the district. In addition to these baseline scores, we had three short-cycle summative assessments that largely measured standard Geometry content. The scores of my 6th period cohort were significantly higher than those of the other cohorts and classes across the district (and at our school). However, their incoming scores, although certainly good, were not significantly higher than other scores. Although I lacked adequate controls to determine whether or not the storytelling was the primary predictor variable, I can say with reasonable practical confidence that the storytelling was another positive experience that likely led to these great results. It is true that more testing would be needed to make the claim that leveraging storytelling in conjunction with a standard geometry curriculum will result in higher learning gains. However, the experience was profound enough for these students and for me that I developed this hypothesis. I look forward to having the opportunity to test this more rigorously at a future date. In short, although the teacher was correct in part, they were also as guilty as I was of reckless statistics insofar as they assumed that no groundwork was done to provide credence the preliminary claim. I would love to have a follow up some day!

Here are our presentation resources:



And, of course, I would not be writing this without sharing the students’ stories. They range in quality, of course, but they were very amazing on the whole. More importantly, these engagements fostered a culture of learning and fun with mathematics that captivated the class culture, providing many fond memories for the students and me.

View the Student Stories

These were originally on the Apple iBooks Store, but at some point they went away. Setting up those accounts, uploading the content to Apple, etc., were additional soft-skills that this lesson taught the students, above and beyond the integration and/or leveraging of math concepts to tell stories about the world’s issues/dynamics. Oh, I almost forgot to mention … the students were encouraged to do their own original artwork for the stories. Some of the artwork, layout, and stories are pretty solid.

jonathan Written by:

Santa Fe area Math and CS teacher; class archives, instructional techniques, and musings on educational leadership.

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