Teaching Math Via Storytelling: How My Students Learned to Determine the Number of Solutions for an Equation Because I Told a Story About Having Famous Twin Daughters

This is the first year that I have taught the skill of “number of solutions” and students really understood it on the first try. What I did was make up a ridiculous story about having twin daughters named Tia and Tamera (famous actresses from the TV show Sister, Sister in the 90s). The story was about giving them equal allowances. While telling the story, I was extremely animated and “super extra” adlibbing random stuff to make it funny, like, “Oh, do you know that my twins have kids which means I’m a grandma—man I look good to be a grandma, don’t I?” I also had real money on hand to demonstrate the story. My kids really enjoyed it, especially when I flashed two $100 bills and told them that I gave my twins $100 apiece each week.

To introduce solving simple equations, I presented my students with the following scenario.

All students quickly said that it must be a $5 bill and we had a discussion about if there could be any other value to make this equation true. Students understood that the only number that works is 5. So, I explained that this equation has 1 solution, and it is $5. This is the only way Tia and Tamera will have the same amount.

The next scenario was similar but had a bit of a twist.

At this point, I modeled different amounts of money that I could possibly give the twins, given that their dad is also giving them money.  Students quickly realized that no matter what I give them, they will never have the same amount because their dad is not giving them the same amount. For this example, I also added in some funny parts of how dad and I are going to have a serious conversation because he is not being fair. I then explained that this equation has no solution, there is no amount of money that I can give the twins where they will have equal amounts. Students started to realize that it’s because the number that is being added by dad is not the same.

For the last scenario, it was again similar, but with another twist.

For this example, students quickly saw that it doesn’t matter how much I give each girl they will have the same amount because their dad is also giving them the same amount. So this equation has many solutions.

This was a really fun and engaging lesson and students enjoyed it, even though most of them knew I was making it up. Although there were a few that were like, “Ms. Webb, you for real, you have twin daughters?”

Later in the year, I gave students a culture survey and one of the questions was, What do you enjoy the most about class? Many of them stated that they loved my story about my twin daughters. Furthermore, whenever students are asked how many solutions this equation has, I say to them, Do you remember my twin daughters?” and then instantly they know what to do and how to approach the problem. This is proof that there is some power in storytelling.

2 comments on “Teaching Math Via Storytelling: How My Students Learned to Determine the Number of Solutions for an Equation Because I Told a Story About Having Famous Twin Daughters”:

  1. I LOVE the idea of storytelling as intimately connected with math learning, and learning in general. There is a ton of research that shows that storytelling supports learning. CPM tasks are part of a mathematical storyline, and each CPM task has its own little story. Is there a way to bring your more elaborate, quite engaging storytelling into tasks on a regular basis?

  2. I try to think about how to include a story as often as I can. The Tia and Tamera story I revisit often when explaining solving equations. I also try to make my stories relatable to my students lived experiences.

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