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Creativity and Storytelling in Mathematics Lessons

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Participate and share : Poster

Saturday, December 5, 11:00 am–12:00 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Philipp Legner  
For many students, learning math is simply about memorizing abstract rules and procedures. Explore how storytelling, real-life applications and problem-solving can make lessons more engaging and memorable. See interactive examples from online resources like Mathigon and take part in group discussions.

Audience: Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Professional developers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS
Participant accounts, software and other materials: (no download required)
Topic: Online tools, apps & resources
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Math, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
For Students:
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
Computational Thinker
  • Students formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.
Influencer Disclosure: This session includes a presenter that indicated a “material connection” to a brand that includes a personal, family or employment relationship, or a financial relationship. See individual speaker menu for disclosure information.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Mathematics has important applications in almost every part of life, and its history filled with fascinating stories, personalities, and discoveries – yet, students often think of math as useless, boring or difficult. In this session, we want to show how educators can use storytelling to make their lessons more fun and memorable, and how creativity and problem-solving can make the learning experience more interactive for students.

Rather than merely memorising procedures for solving standardised questions, students should be able to explore and discover. Real-life applications show students why what they learn is useful and allow them to engage in modelling and critical thinking.

Here are some examples we will use: Measuring the height of Mount Everest and the radius of Earth using simple geometry. Finding the most profitable tile on a Monopoly board using probability. Designing the shape of rollercoaster tracks using calculus. Understanding animal populations using number sequences and primes.

All these scenarios will start with a brief, slides-based introduction, followed by a more detailed exploration using technology. We will use Mathigon (an interactive OER textbook), Desmos (an online graphing calculator), Nrich (a library of math problems), GeoGebra, and Wolfram|Alpha (a computational search engine).


(1) Introduction (10-minute lecture): Summary of existing research and pedagogical principles

(2) Interactive Examples (35 minutes): A wide range of examples from the K12 curriculum (see purpose+objectives for more details). They each showcase particular strategies, resources and design patterns, which teachers can easily incorporate into their own lessons. Every example will start with a short, slide-based introduction, after which the audience will have a few minutes to remotely try different activities, games or manipulatives using their own devices, and then report back with observations and comments in the video conferencing chat.

(3) Tools (15-minute lecture): List of relevant online tools and resources

Supporting research

There is a large body of research that supports active, project- and application-based learning, from Seymour Papert (“Mindstorms”, 1980) to more recent work by Jo Boaler (e.g. “Seeing as Understanding”, 2016), Chip and Dan Heath (“Teaching that sticks”, 2017), Todd Rose (“The End of Average”, 2016) and many others.

Andy Matuschak has written about “Why books don’t work” (2019), and Paul Lockhart about the lack of wonder and exploration in mathematics (“A Mathematician’s Lament”, 2002).

Large parts of this talk are based on the speaker’s own experiences while writing the curriculum for Mathigon, about which Common Sense Education has said “Beautifully designed and interactive courses. A front-runner for a new generation of textbooks.”. The Educational App Store has called the content of Mathigon “superb”, and James Tanton, creator of Global Math Week is “in awe of Mathigon’s work.”

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Philipp Legner, Mathigon

Philipp is an award-winning educator, and the creator of Mathigon, an online learning platform. Called a called “a true mathematical wonderland” by the Guardian and “a front-runner for a
 new generation of textbooks” by Common Sense Education, Mathigon is free, open-source, and used by tens of thousands of students and teachers all around the world. Previously, Philipp worked as a software engineer on Google’s education products, as well as Bloomberg and Wolfram Research. He studied mathematics at Cambridge University and mathematics education at the UCL Institute of Education in London.

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