||Volume 33, Number 2
Math Catcher Festival: Learning math through storytelling
By Veselin Jungic, teaching professor, SFU Department of Mathematics, and Terri Galligos, mentor support teacher, Indigenous Education, Coquitlam
Math can be a tricky subject. Many students, when encountering abstract
thinking for the first time, struggle to connect mathematical concepts to
everyday life. Storytelling, on the other hand, is naturally interwoven with
lived experiences and opportunities for connection.
Rina Sinclair, an Elder of the Siksika Nation, showed us just how
powerful storytelling can be at the First Nations Math Education Workshop in
2009. Following the workshop, we set out to create an initiative that would
apply the Indigenous tradition of storytelling as a vehicle to both communicate
and promote mathematical concepts. Thus, began the Math Catcher Outreach
Program, which aims to link mathematics to the “real world” through
problem-solving, stories, and hands-on activities.
Over the last 10 years, we have worked to create a series of short
stories and animated films that teach math skills and problem-solving within
cultural contexts. The main character in all stories is a boy called Small
Number, who has an impressive aptitude for mathematics—and a proclivity for
getting into mischief. Through these stories, we show students that young
people, like Small Number, encounter mathematics and require knowledge of it
daily. The stories highlight how mathematics can be interesting and applicable
in real life problems.
The Small Number stories and films incorporate problem-solving and aim
to promote Indigenous culture. Of course, Indigenous culture is not a singular
cohesive set of beliefs and practices, but a myriad of traditional and modern
values and practices. As a result, Small Number’s adventures take place in
different situations and in different Indigenous communities. The stories are
available in nine First Nation languages, as well as English and French.
The Math Catcher Program is strongly guided by the First Peoples
Principles of Learning. For example, the principle stating, “Learning is
holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness,
on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place),” is the essence of the
message we try to communicate through our events and activities.
The program’s newest initiative, the Math Catcher Festival, aims to
continue our work in the same direction. The festival and associated activities
are based on the belief that storytelling, accompanied by pictures and
open-ended questions, helps students experience mathematics in action and
encourages them to enjoy math.
The initiative, driven by a group of teachers from Coquitlam, is
envisioned as a celebration of students’ imagination and creativity and their
knowledge of mathematics and Indigenous cultures and traditions. We invite
Grade 4–5 students to create, over the next couple of months, their own Small
Number stories and present them in the format of their choice: a picture book,
a comic, a video, a PowerPoint presentation with a voice over, a play, a
poster, an animation, a computer game, or any other medium that fits their
The festival, to be held virtually on December 11, 2020, will showcase
student-created Small Number stories and will also include several activities,
- mathematical demonstrations
- presentations of different Small Number films
- virtual activities with members of the SFU Indigenous
All participants will receive a Math Catcher Festival certificate.
Additionally, a selection of the admitted stories will be posted on the Math
Catcher website and their authors will be recognized.
Math Catcher Festival
For festival guidelines, important dates, and more information please visit the
website www.sfu.ca/mathcatcher/math-catcher-festival.html or send an
email to the Math Catcher Outreach Program at email@example.com.