Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Also Teach Math with Stories

I've just posted a video where I explain a math concept.  (It's the formula for summing up an arithmetic series, if you're interested to know.)  I mention it here because there's a story to go with it.  The mathematician Gauss figured out that formula when he was ten years old and used it to dumbfound his brute of a teacher.

It's a great story. And it goes well with teaching math.  In addition to being a storyteller I'm also a math and science tutor.  I always use story when I'm teaching.  Here are some possibilities:
  •  A Story Goes with the Concept: Sometimes I'm lucky and there's a ready made story, like the Gauss at Ten story, that just goes with a concept.
  • Something Funny About the Inventor: I may have to dig a bit but there's often something funny or interesting about the people who thought up the math (let's face it, some of them were weird).  Any time I'm telling about something thought up by Leohard Euler, I tell about how he used to write mathematical proofs with one hand while cradling the baby with the other.  Or Archimedes, when he figured out how to get the volume of an irregular shape, jumped out of his bath and ran naked down the streets of Syracuse shouting "Eureka!"
  • How Math Saved My Ass: I have some stories of my own.  Once I was teaching traffic school and forgot to note down who had paid.  Some had used a discount coupon and some hadn't.  It was like a word problem in a book.  And I wrote an equation, solved it, and knew how many people I needed to collect from.
  • The Student's Eyes Are Glazing: Sometimes the student just needs a break from the left brain.  I'll insert a funny story for 3-4 minutes, then we can get back to the subject at hand.