Stories with Math

Remember elementary school math? How you slogged through the times table, struggled with story problems and generally dreaded the whole thing? Since the beginning of MathAmigos, its members who focused their professional lives in math, remembered that experience and asked themselves: “Why shouldn’t kids love math?”

Members of MathAmigos know that math can be fun, interesting and exciting.  But, how do you fix the problem of making math classes engaging for kids, so they move to mastery? Their answer was to create regular workshops for Santa Fe Public Schools’ teachers and pay stipends to those who participate. The workshops are giving elementary teachers strategies for teaching math to their students in new and creative ways, such as Cuisenaire Rods, Exploding Dots, Math Circles, Math Circles in Spanish, Literacy and Math, Stories with Math — and the list keeps growing with each teacher workshop.

Travel back in time and imagine taking a class in Exploding Dots instead of facing an endless slog of multiplication and division problems. Consider the prospect of an hour spent working with Cuisenaire Rods as a way of learning addition and subtraction. The teachers learning these innovative techniques can’t get enough of it, and neither can their students. Kudos from workshop participants tumble in one after another:

  • “It makes math fun!”
  • “More excited! [My students] are more motivated.”
  • “Students are more engaged and persistent. They have requested an afterschool math club!”
  • “Students are more open to experimenting/learning new concepts. Students are more confident knowing that they can use multiple strategies to solve a problem.”
  • “Their creativity increases enthusiasm. Thank you!”

In the spring of 2019, MathAmigos published their first resource booklet for elementary school teachers, “FUN Math Activities Grades K-5.” Their second booklet, “Stories with Math Grades 1-6,” published last month, is a compilation of stories created and written by Santa Fe Public School teachers themselves. These stories – both fantastical and down to earth – are not the old story problems about how fast trains are speeding between two cities. These are stories that integrate math with exciting plots relevant to elementary students today. Both booklets are published in English and Spanish, to reach the greatest number of teachers and students.

MathAmigos works closely with the Santa Fe Public Schools district to ensure their efforts are aligned with the district’s educational goals. Most of all, MathAmigos teaches all of us what can happen when people and systems work together.

This collaborative effort is the essence of Opportunity Santa Fe, an initiative of more than a dozen working groups striving to improve the lives and outcomes of youth in Santa Fe.

Learn more about this effort by visiting

by Ralph Holcomb, AmeriCorps VISTA