Dr. Summer Bateiha and Sadia Mir – authors of a new book published by QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press that tells a math adventure take – speak about how stories are a path to connectedness, and compassion.
The world has flipped on its side. In the space of a few short months, a virus has spread across the globe, and has brought with it a recognition that the only way to fight is with a united front.
COVID-19 does not discriminate. No race, gender, religion, or class is exempt when it comes to susceptibly to infection. We all face exposure to this virus in equal measure.
But even if the virus does not discriminate, the inequity that people face in their differing circumstances does. Privilege becomes even more visible as economies are forecast to go into recession, businesses are shutting down, and employees are losing jobs. Some people will continue to get paid, live in luxury, and have easy access to resources and education, while others will face increasing challenges in home-schooling children and obtaining essential resources. Some elderly people will become further isolated with limited care. Some people will become further trapped in abusive homes. Some of the most vulnerable members of society will lose any sense of stability. The scenarios are endless.
Never in our lifetime has our interconnectedness become so apparent as it is now with the current spread of coronavirus.
Never in our lifetime has our interconnectedness become so apparent as it is now with the current spread of coronavirus. Never in our lifetime has an understanding of mathematics been such an important skill to comprehend the magnitude of this global catastrophe. The numbers show us the ‘butterfly effect’.
A butterfly that flaps its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other side. In the same way, exponential graphs illustrate how our interactions with one another can spread this virus across the globe within a matter of months. Terms like “flattening the curve” have entered our everyday vernacular to demonstrate how preventative measures can save us. To understand this epidemic, we need to understand the mathematical concepts that underlie it.
The heart of the book Spring Bloom: A Math Adventure Story, published by Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press, is building numeracy for a more just world. The more children learn and understand mathematics, the more they, as adults, will be able to process situations such as the one we currently face. Spring Bloom is equally about accessibility, inclusion, and understanding. It brings together the ideas of how mathematical knowledge can be power and how math is embedded in the world around us. It illustrates how we share more similarities than differences, how working together benefits everyone, and how caring for the less privileged can build bonds and enrich our lives.
The story follows two Arab children as they navigate a desert landscape and use mathematics to solve mysteries in order to help a young falcon who has lost his way, reunite with his family. The book aims to enable Arab children, and notably Arab female youth, see themselves in the mathematical stories they read. It also aims to have the wider readership learn about varied social and cultural experiences.
The book is a joint partnership between two professors, a mathematics professor and an English professor, who came together to write a children’s book focusing on the Grade 2 concept of place-value, with a goal of exploring storytelling as a pedagogical tool to teach math in a nontraditional way.
As the authors of Spring Bloom, we were motivated to write this story by several factors. First, there are limited children’s math stories written about experiences in the Middle East and North African region that are used in schools. We wanted to address this gap by providing multi-cultural texts and diverse storytelling.
Culturally relevant literature has been proven to help young learners identify with their own culture and affirm their life experiences.
Culturally relevant literature has been proven to help young learners identify with their own culture and affirm their life experiences. Children need to connect themselves to the text in order to create greater meaning. As educators, we saw this personal identification as a way to strengthen their interest in learning, and the connection as a key factor for effective teaching.
Second, we chose a strong female main character. Growing up, we did not see Arab women in math textbooks. This invisibility made it feel like math was reserved for men, and European men in particular. We want young Arab girls to see themselves as mathematical.
Third, we wanted to focus on the value of caring for the vulnerable or less privileged. The plotline of the book is two children who decide to help a lost falcon reunite with his family. Through their adventure, skills are acquired, a friendship blooms, and all characters benefit in the end.
So, why teach math through storytelling? It’s because stories incite magic and a sense of wonder. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others. They capture imagination and encourage us to engage with our emotions.
As adults, we can often remember beloved stories from our parents, or easily recall our favorite children’s books from our childhood. We remember how they made us feel, their descriptive settings, memorable characters and their journeys. Stories excite and engage children in purposeful talking. Learning through stories can help students appreciate other cultures, races and religions.
Through story, children can relate math concepts to the world around them. They not only learn math, but also learn how to care for others.
We want to harness this appeal for math education. If children can emotionally engage in math, the potential for them to remember and connect to their learning can improve. Through story, children can relate math concepts to the world around them. They not only learn math, but also learn how to care for others.
In a day and age where we are often globally afflicted by division, instability, and currently, a health crisis, what can we do to counteract these forces? What else can gain momentum and move from one country to the next, one individual to the other? How about kindness, respect and compassion? We can read stories to our children that promote a world we hope to foster.
We now plan to pen the next installment in this math adventure series. And we hope to further widen representation and celebrate the diversity of the Arab identity and landscape, for both regional and global audiences, while promoting a more just world.
· Spring Bloom: A Math Adventure Story, published by HBKU Press, is available in bookstores across Qatar and on Amazon Kindle as an eBook. For international sales, please contact HBKU Press at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +974 44543098/2356