Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25th is Math Storytelling Day

This holiday isn't well known yet, but over the years that will change. Maria Droujkova invented this holiday last year as a birthday present for herself. It's my birthday too (!!) and I'm publicizing our holiday as a present to myself.

Seth Godin's post, What should I do on your birthday?, inspired her. Here's  some of what she wrote last year:
For my birthday, I would like people to share math stories. So, for my friends and family, let it be a Math Storytelling Day. We all have some math stories to tell!

And now here is a story I'd like to share.

My son is in the most amazing mini-school. Right now it only has 5 kids, all about 8 years old. (They'd like to increase to about 8 kids. Contact me if interested.) Felicia runs this school out of her home. Already my son has learned to swim during school, and decided he loves science class. I love that they do sun salutations, and have a rock basket for noticing positive things that happen.

Felicia has been studying lots of different educational philosophies lately, and liked Waldorf's emphasis on story. She made up this math story...

Jolly Josh, by Felicia Jeffley

Once upon a time there was a boy named Josh. Josh was a jolly boy. He loved to laugh and play and sing and jump. He looked like any other boy, especially when he was riding his bike or swimming or drawing or reading.

But when he walked, that’s when things got a little strange. He counted. He counted by 2’s and 5’s and 10’s and 100’s. He never just walked. He always counted and walked.

When he walked to the park he counted by 2’s.
When he walked to the beach he counted by 5’s.
When he walked to the swimming pool he counted by 10’s.
When he walked to school he counted by 100’s.

“Josh, stop counting,” his sister would insist.
“Josh, I’m talking to you," his father would scold.
“Josh, are you listening?” his mother would ask.
“Josh, school’s over,” his friend would remind him.

But Josh kept counting and counting and counting and counting until ... he reached 1000.

Well, when he went to school, it was simple. It’s easy to get to 1000 by counting by a 100. It’s not too bad to get there counting by 10’s. And if he fast walked, which he often did, counting by 5’s wasn’t so bad. But counting by 2’s all the way to the park was long, long, long, long. It seemed to take forever.

None of his friends would ever walk with Josh to the park. “I’ll meet you there,” they’d say. His mother would talk on her phone the whole walk. His dad would listen to the game on the radio. His sister, well, she refused to take her little brother to the park.

One day when Josh was walking to the park with his mom, he was so busy counting he tripped over a brick. Down he fell. It hurt, but instead of crying all he kept saying was, “62, 62, 62, 62,” in a whimpery little voice.

“Josh, are you okay,” his mother said, closing her cell phone and running to him.

"62, 62, 62, 62,” he replied.

She could see that he wasn’t okay. She pulled out her phone again and called 911. While they waited, she counted softly and sweetly to him.

“2, 4, 6, 8, ….62”

That seemed to calm him down. She sang it again all the way to 62. After a 3rd time, the ambulance arrived. A nice EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) walked over to him.

“So what where you doing when you fell down?”


“Counting. I used to do that too. I’d count to big numbers, really big.”

Josh’s eyes opened wide, “Really?”

“Yea, it was fun. It’s a good thing too. Now I have to use all that counting in my job. I have to find the right house and know if the house numbers are going up or down. Sometimes the house numbers skip, like by 2’s. Do you know how to count by 2’s?”

“Yes, 2, 4, 6, 8…” Josh said in a whisper.

“Yes, he can count all the way to 1000,” interrupted his mother.

“Wow, that’s impressive!” said the EMT.

“62,” said Josh.

“62?” repeated the EMT.

“Stopped at 62…”

“Are you trying to say that you had gotten to the number 62 today?”

“Yes. Don’t want to forget.” Josh added.

“Oh, that’s why you keep saying it. You don’t want to forget where you were!”

Josh nodded his head a bit.

“How about I write it down for you. Then, you can start off with 62 the next time you walk to the park?”

Josh smiled softly.

“Well, it looks like a sprain. So, Josh I don’t think you’ll be able to resume counting for a few days. We need to get some ice on that ankle."

“Well, that’s good news,” his Mom said in relief. “Could have been worse.”

“That’s true,” said the EMT. How about if I give you all a ride to your house. Let’s see. We’re in front of house number 2 and you live at 50. I’m noticing that the houses go up on this side by 2’s. Yes, that one is 4, the next 6, the next 8 and so on. So, your house is not too far from here.”

The EMT picked Josh up and put him in the ambulance. His mother hopped in and off they went.

“62, 60, 58, 56, 54, 52…” the EMT counted.

Josh’s eyes got big.

“So, Mr. Number Counter, can you do that?” asked the EMT.

Josh shook his head, no.

“It’s counting backwards by 2’s!”

The EMT counted backwards all the way to 0. Josh was impressed.

Josh was better in a few days and off he went to the park. “62, 64, 68, 70…” he began. On the way home he decided to walk backwards and count backwards. Well, that didn’t last too long. He ran into a tree. This time it was not an emergency, just funny. He laughed. His mother laughed.

“I think I should turn around,” he said. His mother agreed.

“But you can still count backwards,” she reassured him.

And that’s what he did. All the way home, from 1000 to 0. Well, with a little help from his mother.

Jolly Josh arrived home jumping for joy. “I know how to count backwards!” he exclaimed.

From that point on, ...
When he went to the park he counted by two’s on the way there and backwards by 2’s on the way back.
When he walked to the beach, he counted by 5’s on the way there and backwards by 5’s on the way back.
When he walked to the swimming pool he counted by 10’s on the way there and backwards by 10’s on the way back.
When he walked to school, he counted by 100’s on the way there and backwards by 100’s on the way back.

Eventually, people stopped asking him to stop counting. Instead they asked him questions like this:
“Josh, can you count the number of braids in my hair? They have to be even.” his sister would demand.
“Josh, how many yards are on a football field?” his father quizzed.
“Josh, can you get enough birthday cookies out, so each kid can have 2?” his mother requested.
“Josh, how much is 5+5+5+5 because I got four $5 bills for my birthday?” his friend asked.

“30, 100, 16, 20,” he answered without hesitation. No matter the question, Josh was quick with the answer. And the more they asked, the quicker he got. And the quicker he got, the more they asked.

He also listened to music and played soccer and counted stars at night and he still walked and counted. He counted forwards and backwards and backwards and forwards. Josh truly was a Jolly boy!

The end.


  1. Cool story! I posted about Story Telling Day a bit earlier, but I've gone back to add a link to yours.

    I didn't have time to make up a new story in honor of the day, so I dug up a few of my old favorites. For instance, a dramatization of the handshake problem:

    "[As the first narrator begins to speak, the actors come on stage and silently greet each other.] Narrator: Seven friends meet each other in the hallway before class. Being polite young ladies and gentlemen, they want to shake hands with each other, and they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or leave anyone out. [Actors give the narrator a strange look, but then they begin to shake hands all around.]..."

  2. Thanks for the link. I should link to some old ones of mine, Eight fingers and Crash and Count, also my post on math as story.

  3. ... and btw, I love the "strange look". ;^)


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