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Storytelling Across the Curriculum: Science, Math, and Social Studies

“Storytelling is our unwritten books and our way of teaching and learning.”
~ Jerry Wood, Cree First Nation Elder, Grant MacEwan University

Storytelling is a powerful way to share with others the bits and pieces of who we are and what we know. We often do this naturally in the flow of a conversation. Other times, we prepare the stories we wish to tell to bolster learning, offer new perspectives, and have an impact on the listener so they think critically or feel emotionally. Regardless, storytelling in its various forms tend to unfold with the purpose of making a connection with another.

For Indigenous people, storytelling is ingrained in every aspect of life. Stories speak about non-human relations such as having respect for animals, plants, and the natural world. They encourage living life in a positive way that reflects the seven Grandfather Teachings of love, respect, humility, courage, wisdom, honesty, and truth. Stories are also how Indigenous peoples pass on knowledge and perspectives through the generations.

In the context of the classroom, storytelling has the ability to foster community. When Indigenous knowledge is incorporated into the storytelling process, it helps to facilitate culturally responsive teaching. Students can benefit immensely from stories that help them learn about diverse people, places, and times. In listening to stories (and telling their own), students can draw on their lived experiences to make meaningful connections to the world around them. This helps them to see the relevance of their learning to real life. Storytelling can also provide opportunities for students to learn about Indigenous Ways of Being.

Below we have outlined a few ways that storytelling can be integrated into specific areas of the curriculum to make the content more relatable, enjoyable, and culturally relevant for your students.

 

Science

Much of what we know about the natural world comes from observation and experience. The possibilities for storytelling with connections to science are endless, such as life cycles, growth and change, and understanding our non-human relations. Another beautiful example is the Creation Story as told by Indigenous nations across Canada. Creation Stories describe the way that the world came to be, as well as the people that live in it. The stories are often told orally by Elders or Knowledge Keepers and may take days to tell. Enjoy this Creation Story (short version) as told by the members of the different nations. Through meaningful storytelling, students can begin to understand their place in the world and build understanding and respect for the other beings that we coexist with on Earth. 


Math

Students that struggle with math tend to do so because they find it difficult to come to one single correct answer. What can be beneficial in these circumstances is to help students to understand the process rather than focus solely on the outcome. The wonderful thing about math is that it tends to include connections to real-life events. Questions can be changed and personalized to make the learning more relatable for your students. Through storytelling, math can be transformed from simple questions and answers to an engaging narrative that incorporates your students’ lived experiences.

For examples of math lessons that integrate Indigenous storytelling check out Math Catcher: Mathematics Through Aboriginal Storytelling. There are a number of visual stories with corresponding problems that you can guide students through. This is one example of how math can be taught with storytelling in mind. 


Social Studies

There is no better way to learn about historical events than to hear directly from the experiences of those who have lived through them. The same goes for learning about different cultures and political contexts. Hearing personal stories can transform our perspectives and the way that we understand the world. Using storytelling in social studies is a great way to help situate students in the time and place that you are teaching about. It also offers the opportunity for students to tell stories to each other about their own cultures and lived experiences. This allows students to see the value in different perspectives and learn about others in a deep, personal way.

Two examples of social studies lessons that address residential schools can be found in our shop: 1) I Will Remember, uses the book Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell as a springboard for storytelling through drama and dance; and, 2) Residential Schools Remembrance Through Poetry and the Arts, uses the poem When They Buried the Children by Abigail Echo-Hawk as a springboard for storytelling through drama, dance, visual arts, and music.

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Guest Writer: Samantha Murdoch-Rock, B.A., Embodied Learnings Director and Indigenous Education Lead. Want to know more about her work? Read here! 

 

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