We Need More Mathematical Stories

Mathematics has a problem. People just do not seem to like it. They really don’t. Even worse people do not see themselves within mathematics. In fact, most people are never given the chance.

We believe we know the answer to this: TELL MORE MATHEMATICAL STORIES. Stories have been shown to be one of the most powerful ways to connect and create a sense of belonging in people, so mathematical stories will help people connect to mathematics and feel a sense of belonging in the field.

We need to hear stories about the history of mathematics from high schoolers, the story of why the private sector mathematician left academia, and all the funny stories about the famous mathematician from their collaborators. We need to hear stories about the great work done by Black mathematicians, women mathematicians, Indigenous mathematicians, Latine mathematicians,  South Asian mathematicians, queer mathematicians, immigrant mathematicians, and all of the other possible positionalities, races, ethnicities, origins, and intersections that exist. We need to reach the the day when everyone can find a mathematical story where they recognize themselves and a storyteller with whom they identify. A day when everyone can see themselves within mathematics. But, in order to do this, we NEED MORE MATHEMATICAL STORYTELLERS.

A Next Generation Solution

Let us share a small fact with you: there is currently NO FORMAL TRAINING for telling mathematical stories.
 
Let that sink in for a second. Sure there are many different science communication programs and trainings but none of them have mathematics specific content. In fact if you search most of them there is no mention of math outside of defining the term STEM. There are also communication focused mathematics courses, but they are focused on scholarly communication such as academic writing, conference presentations, and pedagogy. So even if a mathematician wants to learn how to tell a mathematical story right now, there is no one out there to help them learn how to do it. They would have no choice but to figure it out on their own.
 
This is why we need Relatively Prime: Next Generation Storytellers in the Mathematical Domain. It will be the first of its kind. A holistic program for mathematicians who want to learn to tell interesting, relatable, and most of all, mathematical stories. The program will feature two parts: The Retreat and The Podcast.

Part 1: The Retreat

 An intensive series of interactive workshops and community building for burgeoning mathematical storytellers

Image of a whiteboard with a prism of order 4 and a prism of order 3 drawn on them with labels on the edges of -1 or 1 so that all vertices sum to 0 when you add all the edges together and the N(P)=Z-{1}

Mathematical Communication

Talking well about mathematics takes a lot of practice and after these interactive sessions on mathematical metaphors, understanding their audience, and good mathematical memories the participants will have had a lot of it.

Freytag's Pyramid: a straight line at the bottom left which then goes up at 45 degrees to the top and then goes a third of the way down at 45 degrees with a short straight line going to the right side ending it

Storytelling & Narrative

While Freytag's Pyramid and the Fichtean Curve may not be in a mathematician's normal vocabulary, through these workshops the participants will come to know them and many other narrative structures like the backs of their hands and will learn to identify which ones will best fit their stories.

Audio Production

Hands-on trainings on all things podcast production, ranging from how to record an interview to how to cut tape in such a way as to reveal its most pivotal moments, so participants will have all the skills they need to tell their own mathematical stories.

Part 2: The Podcast

After the workshop, the storytellers will have the chance to tell their own story and release it as an episode of Relatively Prime.

White non-bonary person wearing a jean jacket, blue button down oxford, and red knit tie with headphones one holding a shotgun mic interviewing a white man with a green wool jacket and cream sweater and glasses while walking across a grass field with trees in the background

Preparing their stories

Participants will research, pitch, and go out into the world to report their own stories.

image of a white non-binary person with swept to the side bleached hair with headphones on at a laptop with a whiteboard behind them

Production

They will work one on one with Sam Hansen to produce, edit, and sound design their stories.

Logo with black background and white text that reads Relatively Prime (the is are purple and lowercase) purple text that reads Nextgen

Release

Each story will be released as an episode of the award-winning mathematics podcast Relatively Prime: Stories from the Mathematical Domain.

Outcomes and Impact

Our planned outcomes for Relatively Prime: Next Generation Storytellers are:

  • An increase in participants confidence in telling narrative mathematical stories
  • An increase in participants confidence in communicating mathematics to a general audience
  • An increase in the number of mathematical stories will be available to the public
 

We expect the impact of more mathematical stories to be:

  • An increase in representation across marginalized identities in mathematical stories
  • An increase in sense of belonging in mathematics among non-mathematicians
  • An increase in sense of belonging in mathematics across marginalized identities as they are able to see themselves in mathematics through story

Funding

Relatively Prime: Next Generation Storytellers was developed as a part of the STEM Advocacy Institutes Fellowship program, which provided initial seed funding for this development. In order to implement the program, we are actively looking for more funding and partner organizations. If you or your organization is interested in helping mathematicians tell more stories, you can contact us anytime.

Program Director

White non-bonary person wearing a jean jacket, blue button down oxford, and red knit tie with headphones one holding a shotgun mic standing in front of a sand stone brick wall with a portrait of an old white man from the 1800s (William Rowan Hamilton)
Program Director Sam Hansen is a veteran mathematical storytelling and podcaster. They began telling mathematical stories in 2009 and never looked back. They are the creator and host of the award-winning mathematics podcast Relatively Prime: Stories from the Mathematical Domain, along with many others, including co-creating Math/Maths a weekly mathematics news with Peter Rowlett. Sam has also hosted more than a dozen live events, given public mathematics talks, and won grants to report mathematical stories.
 
Sam is also the Mathematics & Statistics librarian for the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where they work to connect as many people to the mathematics as they can. Sam is also the database developer for two digital humanities databases: PodcastRE and Media History Digital Library. Outside of work and mathematics, Sam mostly listens to podcasts while riding their bike between coffee shops, where they will only order decaf.

Thank you for the support

Storytellers in the mathematical domain