Graphing Stories

Stories capture our interest and imagination.  How can the power of story be applied to math?


A graphic representation of people walking down the stairs outside a building.

Dan Meyer is a teacher and mathematician who blogs and speaks about math education and teaching strategies.  One of his projects is called Graphing Stories, and the way it works is pretty simple: Watch a video of a 15 second event, and then draw a graph that describes a relationship depicted in the video.  For example, the video “Height” depicts a woman in Costa Rica jumping off a tree-top platform to swing on a giant rope swing.  We hear laughter and hear nervous shrieks.  How does her height above the ground change over time?  Students are challenged to draw a graph that describes the relationship.

There are several videos to choose from on the website, and each shows an event in regular and half time speed, and then ends with the answer.

Of course, the next question is, what kinds of video graphing stories could students create to share with others?  With student creativity unleashed, the whole world becomes potential fodder for creating graphing stories…

UPDATE 8-26-14

This just in… Dan Meyer has evolved his thinking since creating Graphing Stories back in 2007.  He has tweaked the way he uses the activity in his classroom and in workshops which focuses on more on *developing the question*:

Here’s how I’ve been doing a better job developing the question lately in workshops.


  • I play the video of Adam sliding.
  • I ask participants to tell their neighbors everything they saw. “Don’t miss a detail,” I say, and I’m always surprised by the details participants recall.
  • I play the video again and I ask the participants to tell their neighbors their answer to the question, “What quantities could we measure throughout the video?” People suggest all kinds of possibilities. Speed, distance from the left side of the screen, height, temperature.
  • Then I tell them I’d like them to focus on Adam’s height. I ask them to tell their neighbors in words what happens to his height over time.
  • We share some descriptions. People compliment and critique one another. Then I point out how difficult it is to describe his height over time in words alone.
  • Only then do I pass out the graphs.

The difference is immense. It takes an extra five minutes but participants are much better prepared to make the graph because they’ve spent so much time thinking about the relationship in so many informal ways. So many more participants walk away from the experience feeling like valued contributors to our group because the questions we’ve asked require a wider breadth of skills than just “graph relationships precisely”.

Read his entire August 15 post