Lev Fruchter was teaching English in 1990 when he was asked to substitute a math class. During the school year, he ended up teaching both English and math, combining the two subjects and using one to aid the education of the other. With a biochemist father and novelist mother, Fruchter was exposed to many different types of learning as a child. He has spent more than fifteen years trying to make digital technologies appealing to a diverse number of learners, including those who typically stray from STEM fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Lev Fruchter is the founder of StoryCode, a curriculum that combines literature and computer programming. He claims traditional methods of teaching STEM fields are only effective for a small percentage of students. Not every student is excited at the thought of learning to code, so he’s trying a different approach by adding fictional literature to the curriculum.
“I don’t explain computers or code using numbers, because that’s never made the deepest sense to me. I try to match digital behaviors with characters of circumstances from stories, novels, fairytales, myths. When programming concept fits a human narrative, even a twisting or magical one, then you’ve got something that can work for people who aren't engaged by mathematical models.”—Fruchter
Fruchter teaches a lessons on literature like the short story, The Lady, or the Tiger?. He asks his students to write their own predictions for the end of the story. As a class, they calculate the possibility of each ending. He claims there are three ways to solve the problem at the end of each story: brute force, tree diagrams representing possible outcomes, and “recognizing that the situation represents the function of the number of options raised to the number of choices. So this ‘three bit’problem has eight solutions (two options raised to the power of three characters equals eight).”—Katrina Schwartz
“Instead of doing it abstractly with ones and zeros, this is a live literary experience in which the story itself is embodying the concepts,”Fruchter says. To clarify, the class discusses possible outcomes of the characters, not binary code, effectively teaching a combination of learning subjects. Students read and interpret modern and classic literature, write creatively, interpret math problems, and solve solutions using math tools like functions and factoring. For students who may not be interested in STEM subjects, combining them with literature may make a huge impact on how they view STEM fields in the future.
Fruchter claims professional engineers and scientists often complain that their communication skills are lacking compared to their colleagues. These professions include rigorous education in chemistry, biology, math, and physics, but lack education in the humanities. Fruchter’s efforts to combine literature and computer coding aim to help with this exact problem. By introducing fiction into math and computer science classes, he’s effectively teaching students the fundamentals of STEM and humanities synchronously. Fruchter admits that some of his students prefer traditional teaching methods of math and science, but he insists on using literature in conjunction with his lessons, “They may not appreciate it now, but I know that the concepts and themes that are embedded in this fiction I’m having them read are important in this field,”he says.
Literature acts much like a STEM building toy for Fruchter, making education a fun and creative experience. The best thing to take away from Fruchter’s lesson plans and unconventional combination of literature and computer science is that people learn in different ways. Find the method that works best for you and your children, and you’ll be able to watch them discover and create.