# Using Rich Narratives to Engage Students in Worthwhile Mathematics: Children’s Literature, Movies and Short Films

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## Abstract

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## 1. Introduction

[U]ses interesting and well-selected problems to launch mathematical lessons and engage students. In this way, new ideas, techniques, and mathematical relationships emerge and become the focus of discussion. Good problems can inspire important mathematical ideas, nurture persistence, and reinforce the need to understand and use various strategies, mathematical properties, and relationships[2] (p. 182).

- How does learning mathematics through challenging tasks embedded in narrative contexts shape the student learning experience, when compared with a typical mathematics lesson?
- When learning mathematics through narrative contexts, to what extent do students demonstrate a preference for learning mathematics through a particular medium (movie clip, short film, or picture story book)?

#### 1.1. Narratives

The paradigmatic is concerned with what is, given the constraints of the system in question, and with identifying and proving generalities that characterize objects and relations in the system, the narrative focuses on particular activities of these objects as they are played out in time, on what might be behind the events in question and on how they resemble or remind us of other things we know about(p. 443).

#### 1.2. Using Children’s Literature in Mathematics Instruction

#### 1.3. Using Audiovisual Media in Mathematics Instruction

active participation in virtual mathematical opportunities may help not only to preserve students’ natural motivation and the interest they have in the world around them, but also turn such interest into meaningful mathematics learning, full of opportunities for enrichment and collaboration, and thus supporting the emergence of a new learning culture(p. 233).

#### 1.4. Engagement and Interest

#### 1.5. Theoretical Framework: Self-Determination Theory

#### 1.5.1. Autonomy

#### 1.5.2. Competence

#### 1.5.3. Relatedness

- Through the shared social experience of listening to, and/or viewing, a culturally relevant narrative to launch a mathematics lesson;
- Through opportunities to work collaboratively with other students, after 10 minutes of exploring the task independently;
- Through participating in a post-task mathematical discussion structured around their peers’ work on the task.

## 2. Materials and Methods

#### 2.1. Participants

#### 2.2. Procedure

#### 2.3. Analysis

Maya participated in all lessons (including We’re Going on a Bear Hunt). Overall, Maya found working on these contextualized problems more interesting, challenging and enjoyable than what she described as her usual mathematics lessons, which she indicated had a heavy emphasis on practice. She valued both the opportunities to make choices and the connection to real life. Her favorite lesson was the Coin Operated task, because she found the visual images compelling, had a clear sense of what the problem was getting at and worked on the problem independently. Interestingly, despite indicating she learnt better visually and despite nominating Coin Operated as her favorite lesson, she indicated a preference for picture story books as her preferred narrative medium for future mathematics lessons.

## 3. Results

#### 3.1. Autonomy: Rich and Familiar Contexts Made the Mathematics More Purposeful (n = 20)

I really like them because it sort of gives it a backbone. It gives it something to go off… It kind of like gives it purpose. Because I mean, I think I’m one of those people who has to see the point to something. If it is just math, then it is not really that exciting, but if it’s, say, a story behind it, it actually makes it more fun because you’re actually doing something to do with the story as well.(Hermin)

It kind of interests’ people a bit more, because it will spark something in their minds… Because like it’s a film, it gets them more interested in the topic. Normally you get bored because you don’t even know why you’re doing it. Just to solve the answers. But, say with the rocket, this is to figure out how much money he would need to go that far.(Reece)

These lessons were challenging and based on something unlike Mr X’s classes which just were, ah, either practicing on Essential Assessments or things… I think it was really good because yesterday when we read, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt it was really fun to read and the questions were related to the topic… It made it more interesting.(Maya)

In our regular math lessons, we get worksheets… (Having a story at the start of the lesson) was useful because it kind of gave you, like, a reason to do it, instead of just working out the math.(Nancy)

I liked it because yeah, I was familiar with it… it just made it a bit more relatable because I’d seen the movies and I knew what they were talking about.(Rachel)

I like it more. Because I know a lot of these things a bit more than what we normally would do… It changed it because I knew what it was, not just starting from scratch doing something. I’ve read the Wild Things quite a lot and I’ve watched Despicable Me, and I’ve seen a lot of Pixar short films.(Charlie)

I think it’s good because, like, it was things you already knew about. And, like, you had past knowledge of it, well some people would have. That past knowledge made it fun. And usually math lessons are just like a piece of paper, here’s multiplication, do stuff. It’s not based off this.(Honey)

If we’re doing like a worksheet, it would be something we don’t really know about… but this was like we had all read the book and it kind of made sense to look into it. And it was fun to like, look at something that we had seen before and then look into it deeper and have a greater understanding about it.

#### 3.2. Autonomy: Open Tasks Support Student Choice (n = 9)

I enjoyed these much more because we could do things our way instead of getting, like, something, like a math sheet and having to do it this one way.(Ashleigh)

And there were so many ways you could do it. And it was hard as well. So, like, it was hard, but that’s what made it fun. And like there were so many ways, like ‘How do I do this? Do I add something on here or do I split this up?’.(Honey)

In all of them there was like some different ways you could work it out. Especially in this one, the Wild Things one, there was a lot of estimating which I kind of like because you can choose your own way….(Nancy)

There’s lots of creativity involved. There’s lots of options to go through… In usual math there would be just sums in a row, they’re all like generic. But this kind of adds a splash of color.

#### 3.3. Competence: The Narrative Presentation Supported Student Understanding (n = 16)

Sometimes [in a regular math lesson] you could do ‘it takes this long to travel somewhere in a boat’ but not with a story background like Where the Wild Things Are. … I could relate to the things, and I knew what was going on in them.(Leroy)

I really like them. They were a lot easier to follow… Um, because we were doing it originally on something. In normal lessons we are just figuring out how to do one thing and turn it into another.(Walter)

Well, they were funner than the rest of them. Because you got to like go off things, movies and books and stuff. And it was kind of frustrating, but you wanted to get it so that’s what made it fun. Like you wanted to keep trying.(Honey)

And I think the video or book sometimes makes it a little easier to work out… Like with the toilet one you could see it was as big as your hand.(Nancy)

You got to see the stuff that was happening instead of maybe being told. And then you got to like do an activity on it, like go back and look over it… because you sort of have a picture of it… I don’t know, it just helps.(Eliza)

But I found this one a bit clearer than it [mathematics] usually is… I don’t know if it was visuals because you read the book to us but I just kind of got it.(Felicity)

I like the films so that you could see it virtually and what was going on. So you see, especially with the shrunken toilet one, you could kind of get the picture of how far it had shrunken… So you could like work it out a lot easier with the film. If you, like go back to see how much it had shrunken… I think the film is easiest because you can actually see it… instead if you write it on the board, it could be a bit different to what actually has happened.(Cameron)

Because you kind of, like mainly with the videos, you can see it in your mind as well… Well, I feel like when the questions come up in tests, like someone has this many cookies and they have to share it with an amount of people, I usually try to count in my mind, but I haven’t seen the people.(Jonah)

It did help with my learning [that it was connected to the story] because if I kind of get stuck I just remember the story and go on from that.(Di)

They were definitely better than regular math lessons… because of the storyline, you know what you are thinking about.(Leroy)

It is kind of easier to understand what you need to do… Because with the story you can always think back on it and… you can remember it… you just think of the video and you can just get the question in your head.(James)

#### 3.4. Relatedness: Students Valued Opportunities to Collaborate and Interact (n = 3)

Well, it was quite hard to figure out what to do. I worked with someone sometimes. Most of the time. And we would do it together. [Did you find that collaboration helpful to your learning?] Yeah. [Is that how you normally work during math lessons?] Not really, no.

I found (We’re Going on a) Bear Hunt a bit easier. It had a bit more of a structure because it said that it had to be under sixty minutes, and we could also work with other people. [So, you like to be able to work with other people?] Yeah, because we could share ideas.

Most lessons the teachers just say ‘oh this is division, you need to do it like this, go off and do it.’ Because you were kind of interacting with us instead… you let us say our noticings and do things that we wouldn’t normally do.

#### 3.5. Preference for a Specific Narrative Medium

I think a book would be better because if you just do a video everybody would get, um, well most people would get caught up in the video and not really listen and think about. With the book you can actually look at the pictures for longer and read the words yourself.(Ashleigh)

Well, I think a book is probably more interesting because you probably have to be really focused with the pictures and illustrations more than a movie. In a movie you’re just watching what everyone’s doing. With a book you’re actually like listening and kind of like seeing what the illustrations are.(Di)

Maybe books more. Because I don’t really know, to me I just thought we could read it and look back over it and look at all the pages as well and go back to reference it.(Shaun)

I’d probably choose clips of films… Or maybe the short film one. I just feel like the video is more clear… because they are kind of like actually moving and doing it. Where in a book it is kind of like just pictures.(Jonah)

I think a video because it’s got a bit more visuals and it still has the sound. Videos are basic visuals, so you can see what’s going on with it. In the book it was sometimes a bit hard to see because I was sitting so far back. So, like, because it was up on the big TV and we could all see it, and it kind of gave you the sounds of it. And I don’t know why but the sounds kind of helped.(Nancy)

I like watching movies and they’re just fun to make it interesting.(Sid)

Maybe the entire short film because you’ve got the whole thing… because I might have missed something in Despicable Me if I haven’t watched it. And then I don’t understand how they got that shrink ray… it just helps it [the mathematics] a little bit to come together more and the answers work.(Eliza)

I like the short films. So, you can see, it’s not really long, it’s not like really slow ‘Then he walks back to the house’, it’s like a speed run through a little story… You won’t be sitting there for another ten minutes and like ‘what happened at the start again?’.(Cameron)

I would do short films because with movies there’s not a lot of them that I’ve seen.(James)

[Preference for movies] because more people know the movies than the short films and the books.(Leroy)

[Preference for books] And also, I haven’t watched any of that, but I, like, knew the book.(Zed)

[No preference] You would have read or seen them before. And then that would kind of give you a little help because you know what the movies about or the book.(Walter)

It doesn’t even have to be a movie or a book or anything. I like it if there’s a story… I personally like it to be a more elaborate story. Because just for me it makes it [the mathematics] lots more interesting….

## 4. Discussion and Conclusions

#### Limitations and Implications

## Author Contributions

## Funding

## Institutional Review Board Statement

## Informed Consent Statement

## Data Availability Statement

## Conflicts of Interest

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Narrative (Medium) | Mathematical Task |
---|---|

Despicable Me (movie clip) | How many times smaller is the tiny toilet than the regular toilet? |

Coin Operated (short film) | Imagine one 5c coin propels his rocket 50 cm. Space is 100 km away. How many 5c coins does the boy need in order to become a real astronaut who has been to outer space? |

Where the Wild Things Are (picture story book) | How much more quickly does time pass in the Land of the Wild Things compared with the real world? |

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (picture story book) | On the way back, the family went a lot quicker to avoid being eaten by the bear, and they got back to their house in exactly an hour. If they travelled at least twice as quickly through each obstacle on the way back, can you work out how long it might have taken them to travel back through the grass, river, mud, forest, snowstorm and cave? Can you find more than one possible set of answers? |

Narrative Medium | Number of Students (Percentage of Responding Students) |
---|---|

Picture Story Books | 6 (27%) |

Moving Picture | 10 (45%) |

Movie Clips | 4 |

Short Films | 3 |

Movie Clips or Short Films | 3 |

No preference | 6 (27%) |

Total | 22 |

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**MDPI and ACS Style**

Russo, J.; Russo, T.; Roche, A.
Using Rich Narratives to Engage Students in Worthwhile Mathematics: Children’s Literature, Movies and Short Films. *Educ. Sci.* **2021**, *11*, 588.
https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100588

**AMA Style**

Russo J, Russo T, Roche A.
Using Rich Narratives to Engage Students in Worthwhile Mathematics: Children’s Literature, Movies and Short Films. *Education Sciences*. 2021; 11(10):588.
https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100588

**Chicago/Turabian Style**

Russo, James, Toby Russo, and Anne Roche.
2021. "Using Rich Narratives to Engage Students in Worthwhile Mathematics: Children’s Literature, Movies and Short Films" *Education Sciences* 11, no. 10: 588.
https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100588