Using rich narratives to engage students in worthwhile mathematics: children’s literature, movies and short films

James Russo, Toby Russo, Anne Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Using children’s literature to support mathematics instruction has been connected to positive academic outcomes and learning dispositions; however, less is known about the use of audiovisual based narrative mediums to support student mathematical learning experiences. The current exploratory, qualitative study involved teaching three lessons based on challenging, problem solving tasks to two classes of Australian Year (Grade) 5 students (10 and 11 year olds). These tasks were developed from various narratives, each portrayed through a different medium (movie clip, short film, picture story book). Post lesson interviews were undertaken with 24 students inviting them to compare and contrast this lesson sequence with their usual mathematics instruction. Drawing on a self-determination theory lens, our analysis revealed that these lessons were experienced by students as both highly enjoyable and mathematically challenging. More specifically, it was found that presenting mathematics tasks based on rich and familiar contexts and providing meaningful choices about how to approach their mathematical work supported student autonomy. In addition, there was evidence that the narrative presentation supported student understanding of the mathematics through making the tasks clearer and more accessible, whilst the audiovisual mediums (movie clip, short film) in particular provided a dynamic representation of key mathematical ideas (e.g., transformation and scale). Students indicated an eclectic range of preferences in terms of their preferred narrative mediums for exploring mathematical ideas. Our findings support the conclusion that educators and researchers focused on the benefits of teaching mathematics through picture story books consider extending their definition of narrative to encompass other mediums, such as movie clips and short films.

Original languageEnglish
Article number588
Number of pages19
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Audiovisual media
  • Challenging tasks
  • Children’s literature
  • Elementary education
  • Mathematics education
  • Narratives
  • Problem solving
  • Self-determination theory

Cite this