This study explores how secondary mathematics teachers can design lessons that spur student curiosity and captivate students with complex mathematical content. Six teachers designed lessons with researchers using the mathematical story framework where the mathematical concept unfolds to capture students’ attention and provide expanded aesthetic experiences (e.g., suspense).
Secondary students often associate their experiences in STEM disciplines, especially in mathematics, with negative emotions (e.g., dull and boring). Recently the Common Core State Standards of Mathematical Practice, such as making sense of problems and persevere in solving them, challenge teachers to design lessons that encourage students to persevere as they engage with complex mathematical concepts. To address this challenge, the MCLE Project draws on the affordances of narratives to explore how high school mathematics teachers can design mathematical stories, which interprets the unfolding mathematical ideas across a lesson as a narrative. To show how the mathematical content unfolds in a sequence of activities within their mathematical stories, the teachers created representations of the mathematical plots, such as storyboards. Each of the six participating teachers designed and enacted three MCLEs to offer different types of aesthetic experiences, such as surprise or wonder. The lesson topics for each MCLE were selected by the teachers so that it can fit within the curriculum of their courses. Using post-lesson surveys and selected student interviews, the student aesthetic experiences with MCLEs were compared with their experiences in lessons that were not designed using the mathematical story framework.
Overall, students reported improved aesthetic experiences in MCLEs when compared with other lessons in the same class, as shown by both surveys and interviews. We have identified eight characteristics of mathematical plots (e.g., number of questions which are open simultaneously, stayed open longer, spanned more of the lesson, and offered incremental progress periodically throughout the lesson, etc.) that are associated with students' lesson interests. We have learned that MCLEs can positively impact important practices such as teacher and student questioning and teacher discursive moves which strongly influence students’ engagement in classroom discourse.