I had the opportunity recently to complete peer observations outside of my content area. I scheduled a half day of observations with a sixth grade social studies teacher new to our building. We observed in two eighth grade social studies classrooms and one sixth grade classroom.
If you’ve never observed outside of your content area I highly recommend it. I think it forced me to pay closer attention to the general instructional practices, rather than focusing in on the content.
In the sixth grade classroom the teacher began by reviewing what the students discussed in the previous class. They were in the middle of learning about Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman Republic. The students eagerly answered her questions and were incredibly engaged with the “story” she was telling.
I was engaged with the story, intrigued by the cast of characters and happenings that she described. The students were making predictions about what would happen next and the teacher responded, “just wait…maybe we’ll see today…”
The students knew the characters in this story, they understood how they related, they recalled the parts of the story that were told to them in the previous class, they made predictions about what would happen next. The teacher also knew this story, oh so well, that she could add on interesting and important details and maintain the curiosity that she had sparked.
I wondered…can we teach math as a story?
I decided to Google “Teach Math as a Story” and the first result was this.
It is an excerpt from a book and it’s mostly about using stories in the math classroom, but it has useful think-a-bouts like this…
“In our description of how to teach mathematics, we are not concerned with fictional stories about the topic, but rather we are concerned with how we can shape the topic to enhance its attraction to students. In doing this, we will not be falsifying anything, or giving precedence to entertaining students over educating them. Instead, we will be engaging them. We see engaging students with mathematical activity as a crucial aspect of successful education as, and it is the real vividness and importance of this subject in which we want to engage students.
In summary, the great power of stories, according to Kieran Egan (1986, 2004, 2008), is in their dual mission: they communicate information in a memorable form and they shape the hearer’s feelings about the information being communicated.”
I did some additional searching through Peter Liljedahl’s work and found this interesting article that seems related to what teacher planning might look like in order to teach math as a story.
In this article, Zazkis and Liljedahl contrast a typical lesson plan to what they’ve termed a lesson play.
“In terms of the pedagogical features of the lesson play, we wish to draw attention to some aspects of its format. The structure of the lesson play – as a dialogue occurring overtime with possibilities for different points of view – allows for the portrayal of the messy, sometimes repetitive interactions of a classroom. This structure stands in stark contrast to a necessarily ordered and simplified list of actions such as: take up homework, state definition, provide examples,give problems, and evaluate solutions.”
Crafting a lesson play provides for the improvised interactions that may occur with teaching math as a story-being able to respond and shift according to responses from students.
I don’t think any of this is dissimilar from the ideas in books such as 5 Practices, but I now have a different analogy that I’m considering. As I continue the thinking that I’ve started here, I want to keep in mind these things in terms of how I work with the math teachers in my building:
- On the macro level-How can I help teachers to tell the math story as a set of interconnected ideas and concepts?
- On the micro level-How can I help teachers to consider a lesson play, so that the day to day story is just as interesting as the year long story they are telling? How do we get students to want more?