Figures, Facts & Fables

Figures, Facts & Fables: Telling Tales in Science and Math by Barbara Lipke. Portsmouth,NH: Heinemann, 1996. ISBN 0-435-07105-X, $25 145pp.

Barbara Lipke is another educator who shares her experience in her books! Facts & Fables: Telling Tales in Science and Math Though she now works full-time as a storyteller and educational consultant, she taught middle grades for twenty-four years.

I was delighted to see this book. I have always known that storytelling stimulates imagination and creativity, and I know that those qualities are essential to problem solving. However I was never able to do more than scratch the surface when it carne to advising teachers on how to incorporate storytelling into math and science.

Figures... is part of a series entitled Teacher to Teacher, and Lipke covers her material as if she were addressing a group of teachers at a conference. She assumes that they are interested in the topic, but anticipates and addresses all the roadblocks they will throw up as she talks.
The first chapter encourages teachers to try storytelling, and recounts Lipke's own journey into telling in the classroom. She talks briefly about the whys and hows of storytelling by teachers and students.

Next she deals with the problem teachers must face when they use approaches that seem to stray from the curriculum: "How can I tell my principal we're not just having fun?1I Here she goes into greater detail about the pedagogical value of storytelling across the curriculum. Anecdotes from her years of classroom teaching support her arguments and make the reading fun.
Finally, having set the stage, she comes to a chapter on the use of storytelling specifically. with science, then another on Its use specifically with math. The answer to my dilemma of how to use stories and math beyond the obvious applications was as easy as the quote from retired teacher / storyteller Rita Hughes: “all you really have to do is think mathematically. Then any story has math possibilities and implications.” Lipke presents a number (number!) of examples of how familiar folktales can be explored mathematically. There is math to count, math to measure and estimate, and Venn diagrams. She discusses biographies of mathematicians, and the history of mathematics as ways of involving stories, and of course, there is the math/literature connection. By using the ideas set forth in her anecdotes, teachers may well be on their way to creating a body of cheerfully “numerate” children, children who understand the language and thought processes of math.

Science through storytelling always seemed more accessible to me. There are many stories that can be tied into the study of natural science and the environment, and I could make the connection between curiosity in stories and in science. But Lipke was asked to go beyond these approaches to find something that tied stories to the essence of science. The result was an approach in which, while exploring a story, students discover for themselves, and use, the scientific method. "Those students not only learned about scientific method," says Lipke. "They learned something much more important: they learned that asking questions is valuable, that it leads to knowledge, and that scientists, one of the professions they considered elite and unattainable, worked by asking questions. Their natural curiosity was validated, not squelched. What a lesson!"

Part Two of the book is called Teaching Storytelling. It provides a unit designed for students as tellers, complete with sample letters to parents, student guide sheets, evaluation sheets, and suggested teacher calendar. It offers exercises, guided imagery, warm-ups, storytelling games, story webbing, and learning logs. There are more specific ideas on how to use storytelling with math and science. One appendix has a selection of stories, some by Lipke, others traditional, and all short enough to be readily learned. They are followed by examples of the types of lessons which could be explored through the story. I wish sources were listed for the traditional tales so that newcomers who are not familiar with them could seek out other versions and make comparisons.

The second appendix is a boon to those teachers who are now convinced that they want to follow Lipke's lead. It lists stories related to various aspects of math and science. Among others there are stories related to physics and engineering; stories that lead to hands-on experimentation; stories about computation, pattern, spatial relationships and more. The stories listed include folktales, myths, picture books, and juvenile novels

Second Story Review, Vol 2, No 1 - Mar 1997

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