Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why We Should Be Telling Stories in Math Class

     Stories are what we live for, we tell them, we share them, we listen to them, and we dream them.  Man is hardwired for stories.  Stories help us build and make meaning of what is going on around us.  As educators doesn't it make sense that we should be telling stories in our classroom? 

Not sold on the idea yet?  Let’s see what the Harvard Business Review says about storytelling.
In our information-saturated age, business leaders “won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories,” says Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues and president and founder of Public Words, a communications consulting firm. “Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all,” he says. But stories create “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. That means leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others. And fortunately, everyone has the ability to become a better storyteller. We are programmed through our evolutionary biology to be both consumers and creators of story,” says Jonah Sachs, CEO of Free Range Studios and author of Winning the Story Wars

      Good marketers know this.  They have only a minute or so (and often less) to tell a story that we can emotionally connect to so we will buy their product.  Just look at the commotion the Super bowl commercials cause:  Who couldn’t connect to the little boy dressed as Darth Vader and his obliging dad who helps him use his powers, or the puppy that has that special relationship with a horse?

So how can we apply this to the math class?  Well for a start, we could tell some “hi-stories” of the mathematicians who developed the calculations we use today. Or how some of the great problems of the world have been solved using mathematics.  Here is a great link from Math Forum called “The history of mathematics through solving some of the greatest problems that have inspired mathematicians through the ages.”

There is also a short TED Talk about "why is x the symbol for unknown?", instead of maybe y or m or p.

When it comes to adding stories into the classroom, I say “bring it on”.


  1. Hi Minky - I enjoyed your post. I've always believed that students will remember us for our personalities, and how we relate to them. I think that our own personal stories are a part of this, which we should try to share. The thing that I liked about the TEDtalk that you have shared is that the story that Moore tells us is a direct result of something he has learned. If we want to instill a sense of pride in being a life-long learner, then we should be telling our students about the new discoveries that we make.

    1. Hi Graham, I agree that sharing personal stories is a great way to build relationships, but I also believe that telling and sharing stories really helps with remember the learning. For example, when first working with the acceleration of gravity, I always tell the story of Galileo standing at the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and throwing different size cannon balls over the edge to see the rate they fell at, then we do the experiment and we come up with what Galileo found out. Then, I can add the hint "remember Galileo" and a large majority of the students get the answer right.

  2. Hi Minky, I liked your blog post and I do think associating stories with the lessons we teach can be very powerful. The Ted talk was also a very interesting piece of information, and now I will not forget that tidbit of information, and can pass on that information on to my students. It is these types of associations with topics that make it a fun, memorable and engaging learning experience for our students.

  3. Hi Minky, I think that this is an excellent idea. With my experiences in math classes a lot of students become distracted or uninterested in the material very shortly after the beginning of a lesson. When this happens, no matter what we information we give them it just goes in one ear and out the other and the students have no idea what they are doing even thought the lesson was jsut explained to them. I feel that by telling stories we can better grab the students attention for the material that we will be presenting. I also think that sharing a memorable story with the students can act as a cue to remember a lesson that was taught that same day, like having a replay button in their own minds. Following up on a story by doing an activity related to the story would be even more beneficial and reach out to those students who learn best hands on.