My 2018 NCTM Presentation: Story Archetypes in Mathematics Curricula

Are you going to the NCTM 2018 conference next week in Washington, DC?  Do you want to learn about the thinking behind the Eureka Math/EngageNY curriculum from the lead writer and lead mathematician?  Then put the following talk on your schedule:

Story Archetypes in Mathematics Curricula: How is Eureka Math/EngageNY like STAR WARS?

Scott Baldridge
Thursday, 26 April, 2018
3:00 PM  – 4:00 PM
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Room: Ballroom C

Here is the updated description of the talk: True learning is unsettling, bringing the student to the edge of order and chaos. One powerful way to help students navigate in this unsettled, creative space is by submersing them into archetypal stories. Like literary works, math curricula can have archetypes embedded in them, and some of these archetypes are as old as Euclid.  Most often, US mathematics curricula are encyclopedic, running through disconnected contents, or they spiral up through skill-building repetition of topics. In this talk, I describe how mathematics curricula can be conceptualized around epic tales so that students may experience in their mathematics learning the narrative continuity of a well-written story. I illustrate how the hero’s journey forms one of the main organizing principles behind the Eureka Math curriculum.

But what does this mean?  The Eureka Math curriculum is a hero’s journey very similar to Luke’s journey in the original STAR WARS movies.

What is a hero’s journey? Come to the talk and find out! I’ll use the STAR WARS movies as a guide to what a hero’s journey is, then describe the hero’s journey behind Eureka Math/EngageNY curriculum.  Along the way, I will describe the power of connecting mathematics with one of the oldest story archetypes.  This story archetype can be found in all cultures and all parts of the world; it resonates within each of us because each of us can (and do) identify with the hero.  It crosses all groups: ethnic/racial, men and women, young and old, sexual orientations.  For example, the hero’s journey’s popularity in blockbuster movies (Black Panther, Wonder Woman, STAR WARS, etc.) is a testament to the power and reach of this basic archetype.

In fact, this talk poses a serious challenge to participants: Does your PK-12 math curriculum employ some story archetype at its core? These archetypes emerge from a dynamic substratum common to all individuals, and can be thought of as the basic humanity from which all people build their outlook on life, culture, personality, values. When a curriculum lacks archetypal story structures altogether, the absence can make it much harder for students to engage with the content; the lack of such structures can become a deterrent to building a culture of access and equity.

Never thought of a math curriculum as a story?  Chris Brownell of the AIMS Center and I discuss the meaning of a narrative-based curriculum in the following three ZPC podcasts:

  • Episode 71 | The Teaching of Mathematics Incorporating Narrative with Dr. Scott Baldridge, part 1 (Read about this episode here.)
  • Episode 72 | The Teaching of Mathematics Incorporating Narrative with Dr. Scott Baldridge, part 2 (Read about this episode here.)
  • Episode 73 | The Teaching of Mathematics Incorporating Narrative with Dr. Scott Baldridge, part 3 (Read about this episode here.)

These podcasts give a nice introduction to narrative structures in mathematics curricula.  They are excellent preparation for the talk I will give at NCTM 2018 where I will tie the curricular coherence issues discussed in these podcasts into the epic narrative built into the 14 grades of the Eureka Math/EngageNY curriculum.

Sound exciting? Don’t miss it!



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CHANNEL: Engineering School Mathematics
© 2018 Scott Baldridge


About Scott Baldridge

Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, LSU. Geometric topologist: gauge theory, exotic 4-manifolds, knot theory. Author: Elementary Mathematics for Teachers.
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