More on Math stories
One of the things that teachers are noticing is that students are afraid to fail. If they don’t get the answer right away they often will stop trying and wait for the right answer to be given by the teacher.
According to Dr. Margaret Taplin of the Institute of Sathya Sai Education, Hong Kong a growing problem is “that more and more students are becoming afraid to try new things in case they fail, and/or become depressed and question their own self-worth if they do make mistakes. Mathematics, with its emphasis on 'right' or 'wrong' answers can potentially reinforce these fears.”
So how can we make it okay for students to “fail”? Well there are the obvious things we can do in our classrooms, like make them welcoming, building relationships, making the classroom safe for mistakes (no put-downs, listening with respect, responsible talk) and introducing stories of famous mathematicians and what they did when they couldn’t find the “right answer”.
Dr.Margaret Taplin feels that telling our students about famous mathematicians and what struggles they went through to become successful is one way.
Another way is to read our students stories which one might think are only for young children. As a high school teacher I often read children’s story books to introduce novels or topics. (For anything to do with civil rights, children’s rights, oppression, or government, I always read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles: read it, you’ll be glad you did.) But when teaching math, I always start with Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. It’s all about a girl who is the victim of a “math curse” and a great way to introduce how much math is a part of everyday life.
Little anecdotal stories about mathematicians can be found at
Math Curse is available on line and most likely at a bookstore near you.