Drawing from their research article, titled ‘The Effect of Using Storytelling Strategy on Students’ Performance in Fractions’ which is published in the Journal of Education and Learning), Prof. Charalampos Lemonidis and Ioanna Kaiafa (University of Western Macedonia, Greece) have put together a short and easy-to-read summary below. We hope you will find it interesting to read and inspiring you to use storytelling to enrich your mathematics teaching.
Using storytelling to teach mathematics
The teaching of mathematics through the use of stories has emerged in recent years as a modern and effective method of teaching. Teachers can use stories to introduce, explain and discuss mathematical concepts in a memorable way. Integrating storytelling within mathematics teaching develops literacy skills and promotes mathematical language (Wiburne & Napoli, 2008). Storytelling helps teachers to create a dynamic and interactive learning environment that supports students to make sense of mathematical vocabulary (Bintz & Moore, 2002).
The use of storytelling in teaching mathematics can spark students’ interest, reduce their anxiety, engage them in the educational process (Zazkis & Liljedahl, 2009) and provide an alternative explanation of a mathematical concept. Storytelling supports memory, provides learning motivation (Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, Boogaard Doig, 2009) and improves analytical skills.
The main purpose of our study was to investigate the role that the use of storytelling can play in teaching fractions to third grade students. The study sample consisted of 76 third graders (8-9 years old), who attended two primary schools in Greece. This sample was divided into experimental (n=38) and control (n=38) group.
The same teacher applied the teaching program to both groups (experimental and control group). Students of both groups followed the same curriculum for the teaching of fractions (Lemonidis, 2017) and had the same textbook (student book and workbook), which was created by the researchers in accordance with the principles and objectives of the particular curriculum.
When introducing a new mathematical concept to the experimental group, the teacher was reading a teaching story to students while the pictures accompanying the text were displayed. Then, a brief discussion on the content of the story took place in the classroom, while the students were working on math activities related to the story and learning objectives. The teacher was reading the story in an interactive way that fostered communication to accomplish the goal of meaningful student engagement (Courtade, Lingo, Karp, & Whithey, 2013). The Students were encouraged to strategically and purposefully interact with both the teacher and the content of the story. This reading experience requires students to be active participants than passive listeners (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Subsequently, students explored mathematical concepts through the processing of textbook activities (student book and workbook).
When introducing a new mathematical concept of fractions to the control group, the teacher used manipulative materials. The students worked with objects, area models, fraction strips and number lines to explore fraction concepts. Subsequently, the students approached mathematical concepts through the processing of textbook activities (student book & workbook).
The story, written by the researchers, is entitled "Journey to the Land of Fractions" and includes seven parts. Each part was a target-focused story, namely, it was in accordance with the curriculum objectives. The protagonist of the story is “Takis, the little fraction” a fractional unit (1/8).
Takis fails his school exams and his value decreases as teachers add units to his denominator. Takis feels very disappointed and decides to leave the City of Fractional Units and not return, unless he increases his value. Two whole numbers, 3 and 5, help him overcome obstacles and manage to increase his value. Thus, a fascinating adventure begins, through which students observe the properties of fractions, watching the story's plot unfold.
The results showed that the use of storytelling had a positive effect on students’ achievement in fractions, as the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group in post - test. This test was developed by the researchers and included 10 activities and problems that were in line with the teaching objectives of the intervention. These activities were referring to: a) The part-whole interpretation of fraction, b) Placing fractions on number line diagram, g) Creating and manipulating fraction representations and e) Comparing fractions.
Students who benefit most from the use of storytelling were the medium and low achieving students. The use of storytelling had a positive effect on mathematical skills, such as comparing fractions, finding equivalent fractions, creating and manipulating representations and problem solving.
The use of storytelling in teaching mathematics allowed students to approach mathematical concepts in a learning environment with rich stimuli that contributed to conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts (Capraro & Capraro, 2006; Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, Boogaard, & Doig, 2009). Representations that students created through the use of the stories enriched their mathematical understanding. The students had the opportunity to transform the ideas presented through the stories into their own personal representations. Transforming an idea includes processes, such as rethinking, re-creating and reconstructing it in a new form (Whitin & Whitin, 2001).
As the development of mathematical concepts took place along with the story evolution, students had the opportunity to understand “What is fraction”, how its value changes, and what they should consider when comparing two fractions with a common numerator or common denominator. Subsequently, students could transfer this knowledge to solving problems with similar content.
The results from this study suggest that careful selection of a story and its targeted inclusion in teaching can support students’ understanding of mathematical concepts. Storytelling provides students with a meaningful context in which they can communicate and discuss the mathematical ideas inherent in the text. Students’ learning is more successful when material is presented in a way that is meaningful to them (Price, 2009). The context story provides students an opportunity to develop meaningful knowledge of concepts and processes through investigation rather than memorizing (Carparo & Carparo, 2006). Teachers and parents can use picture books as a way to introduce children to mathematical concepts in a meaningful and applicable way.
Bintz, W. P., & Moore, S. D. (2002). Using literature to support mathematical thinking in middle school. Middle School Journal, 34(2), 25–32.
Capraro, R. M., & Capraro, M. M. (2006). Are you really going to read us a story? Learning geometry through children’s mathematics literature. Reading Psychology, 27(1), 21–36.
Courtade, G. R., Lingo, A. S., Karp, K. S., & Whitney, T. (2013). Shared story reading. Teaching mathematics to students with moderate and severe disabilities. Teaching Experimental Children, 45, 34–44.
Lemonidis, Ch. (2017). In the trajectory of the rational. Kyriakidis Publications, Thessaloniki, Greece. [in Greek].
National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the national early literacy panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Price, R. R. (2009). Using children’s literature to teach mathematics. Quantile.
Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M., Boogaard, S., & Doig, B. (2009). Picture books stimulate the learning of mathematics. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(3), 30–39.
Wilburne, J. M., & Napoli, M. (2008). Connecting mathematics and literature: An analysis of pre-service education school teachers’ changing beliefs and knowledge. IUMPST: The Journal, 2, 1–10.
Whitin, P., & Whitin, D. (2001). Using literature to invite mathematical representations. In A. A. Cuoco (Ed.), The roles of representation in school mathematics (2001 yearbook of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, pp. 228–237). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Zazkis, R., & Liljedahl, P. (2009). Teaching mathematics as storytelling. Sense Publishers.
About the authors
Prof. Charalampos Lemonidis is a Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Western Macedonia, Greece. His research interests include mental calculation and Estimation, use of technology in teaching/learning mathematics, mathematics disabilities, long life learning of mathematics.