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Teacher Magazine Volume 33, Number 2
November/December 2020

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 ideas.

The festival, to be held virtually on December 11, 2020, will showcase student-created Small Number stories and will also include several activities, such as:

  • mathematical demonstrations
  • presentations of different Small Number films
  • virtual activities with members of the SFU Indigenous community.

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 math_catcher@sfu.ca.


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