Mathematics and stories? A transformative approach to teaching and learning mathematics

 

Dr. Natthapoj Vincent Trakulphadetkrai

The idea of using story-picture books in mathematics lessons may sound eccentric to some, and yet this is precisely what Dr. Natthapoj Vincent Trakulphadetkrai, Lecturer in Primary Mathematics Education at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education (IoE), has been advocating over the past few years. You can read more about Vincent’s research and the MathsThroughStories.org initiative that he founded in this series of monthly blogs highlighting key research activities here at the IoE.

 

Why mathematical story-picture books?

“You don’t learn to cook through having swimming lessons – why are maths and English different?” – I came across this interesting quote when I was going through questionnaire data of one of my pilot research projects, which set out to explore teachers’ perceptions on using stories in mathematics teaching. In fact, this teacher was not alone. Other teachers shared her view: “Tenuous links” and “It won’t happen, Maths and English don’t mix”. These perceptions are very important to me as a mathematics education researcher and as a mathematics specialist teacher educator because, in my view, they represent misconceptions that need to be urgently addressed.

 

These past few years, I have been communicating to as many in- and pre-service teachers as I can to highlight to them that story-picture books, when used effectively, can be an incredibly powerful mathematics teaching and learning tool. Specifically, the narrative component can help children to contexualise mathematical concepts in everyday scenarios in a way that children can become emotionally invested in, while page illustrations can help them to visualise the mathematical concepts in question. Meanwhile, children also have opportunities to practise using both mathematical terms and general vocabularies that they find in the story – an important connection to be made particularly when my other research project found significant correlation between children’s language abilities and their mathematical word problem solving performance.

 

What is MathsThroughStories.org?

When I further explored the rest of the questionnaire data – this time with a focus on teachers’ perceived barrier to the integration of stories in their mathematics instruction, a large number of teachers in my study expressed that they had either never heard of the approach (i.e. the use of stories in mathematics teaching) or that they liked the idea, but did not know any mathematical story-picture books that they can use. These views prompted me to create MathsThroughStories.org, which contains the world’s largest database of recommendations for 500+ mathematical story-picture books. The website also features lesson plans, book reviews and exclusive interviews with some of the world’s most popular authors of these stories.  

 

In the short span of ten months since the launch of the website in March 2017, MathsThroughStories.org has now been viewed nearly 100,000 times by over 15,000 teachers and parents from more than 130 countries globally. Not only have I been amazed by these statistics, I have also been fascinated by the way teachers and parents actively help to promote my initiative and its website among their peers and fellow parents.

 

This blog entry is not intended to give you a detailed report of my research as it can be found elsewhere. What I hope to achieve, with this blog entry, is to simply raise an awareness of the potential pedagogical benefits of mathematical story-picture books. If you like what you have read so far, I should be grateful if you could help to promote the MathsThroughStories.org website in whichever way you can!  

 

You can find out more about this transformative approach to teaching and learning mathematics either on the MathsThroughStories.org website, or the upcoming Special Issue (Summer 2018) of The Mathematical Association’s Primary Mathematics journal that Vincent edits,  or from a book chapter called ‘Bringing Mathematics Alive through Stories’ which Vincent is the lead author in an upcoming edited book, titled ‘The Strength of Story in Early Childhood Development – Diverse Contexts across Domains’ to be published by Springer later in 2018.