Number Talks...

the journey IS the destination

My journey into number talks began at a conference a couple of years ago. That particular day, I was so excited (I LOVE nerdy math days), however, when the presenter opened by telling us that we would be spending ALL day focusing on “Number Talks,” I thought to myself, what can I possibly learn? I already do this in my classroom....let the doodling begin.....

Halfway through my first flower, (I can’t draw much else) as I listened to the presenter, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong! I had A LOT to learn!

I consider myself a very constructivist- learning math teacher. I love to have the students cooperatively problem solving, sharing strategies, and really developing a strong foundation of mathematical concepts. To me, sharing strategies WAS a number talk, I mean we were talking about numbers, right? After reading Sherry Parrish’s book Number Talks, watching her DVD examples and currently utilizing them as a part of my daily math routine, I realize that there is an enormous difference between just talking about numbers and conducting a Number Talk.

First, a little background on the premise behind Parrish’s “Number Talks.” A number talk is a short, ongoing classroom routine that provides students with meaningful computation practice. It is designed to be a 5 - 15 minute conversation around purposely crafted computation problems. The daily use of number talks is implemented to develop mental computation, encourage the use of number relationships to solve problems, and increase students’ fluency with numbers. As we all know, fluency with small numbers is the foundation for later success with larger number computation with understanding.

In Number Talks, Parrish states that teachers should start with smaller problems to elicit thinking from multiple perspectives, using arrangements of dots (or other images) is a perfect place to begin.

These images are important tools in helping students build a visual link to composing and decomposing numbers. The sequencing of the images allows students to apply the strategies from a previous problem to subsequent problems.

So, what does it look like in the classroom?

Math class begins and the students are all seated on the carpet facing the teacher. The teacher flashes dot image Card A (either on the SMARTboard or on a card) for @2-3 seconds (not much longer, because you do not want them to count, you want them to visualize and subitize the numbers).

Example Dot Image Card A: Example Dot Image Card B:

The teacher asks the students “How many dots were there?” Students give a thumbs up sign when they have an answer. The teacher flashes the image one more time for revision. Students quietly share their thinking with their partner and focus attention back to the teacher. The teacher takes answers from the students, listing ALL of the answers on the board, correct or incorrect. The teachers says, “It looks like we have several ideas. As we share, let’s see which of these ideas we need to revise. Who would like to try to explain their answer first?” As students respond, the teacher asks questions such as, “How did you count to get the total?” “How did you see the (dots or picture)?”

The teacher follows with Dot Image Card B, following the same process and reinforcing student answers that make a connection to Card A.

At first it may seem a bit simple, however when you plan and construct the problems carefully with a mathematical goal in mind, the possibilities are endless.

What do we hear the students saying during a number talk?

When shown Card A, students may say, “I know there were 5 dots because it is four and one more” (counting on) or “If you move the one dot over it makes a 5, like on a dice.” (subitizing)

For Card B, they may use the same reasonings, ”It is 5 because it is 3 and 2 more” or “If you move the two over it makes a 5.” They may also make connections to the previous card and say “It is still 5, one dot just moved over to the other side.” (conservation of numbers) All of these strategies are integral in counting, cardinality and building a strong foundation of the Common Core Standards in Operations and Algebraic Reasoning. In their discussions, they are also creating mathematical arguments as described in the CCSS Mathematical Practices.

Number Talks are not just constricted to dot or image arrangement, they can also be used with ten frames and numeric expressions, based on the needs of your students. By learning to build number

relationships, students can move into addition and subtraction with this same number sense. Having a solid understanding of counting on, subitizing, and conservation, students will move into addition/subtraction equations with the same reasoning. For example, When solving 4 + 2 can easily see that one dot moving over to make the 4 a 5 and one more would make six. Or they can see the four dots and count on to make 6. They can continue to make those connections when adding 9

to any number: 6 + 9 = ( 5 + 1 ) + 9 = 5 + ( 1 + 9 ) = 5 + 10 = 15.

I have looked everywhere online to find an example to demonstrate an exemplary Number Talk in the classroom and while I couldn’t find one as good as the DVD that comes with Parrish’s book, this one is a good Kindergarten example:

So, needless to say I am a HUGE proponent of TRUE, well-constructed, purposeful number talks. As I realized, there is a big difference between just talking about numbers and having a mathematical goal in mind to help students build mathematical relationships.

If you would like some examples of number talks to try, or have any questions about starting them in your classroom, I would love to chat about them with you. You can tweet @MathMinds or visit us here on FB.

Thank you #1stchat blog for having us! We truly appreciate the opportunity!

By: Kristin, @MathMinds