Thursday, November 1, 2012

Number Talks

I was worried about my children not understanding Number Talks, but it was amazing how quickly they wrapped their brains around different mental strategies.
Christi Muto
3rd Grade, Parkside Elementary

Number Talks are classroom conversations around purposefully crafted computation problems solved mentally. What a great way to "warm-up" students' brains, but more than that, they are a fun way to build number relationships.

Key Components of Number Talks
1. Classroom environment and community
  • Number talks build a cohesive math community. It is so important that this is a risk-free environment.  Designate a place in your room where the students sit altogether on the floor. Have a place to write because in Number Talks the teacher does the recording!
2. Classroom Discussion
  • Since the computation is done mentally, provide plenty of time. Use a signal such as thumbs up on their chest to show they have the answer. Students are given the opportunity to share their strategies and justifications with their peers. The benefits are students clarify their own thinking, test other strategies to see if they are logical, apply number relationships, and build a repertoire of efficient strategies.
3.  The Teacher's Role
  • Since the heart of Number Talks is classroom conversations, the teacher becomes the facilitator. The teacher writes down all the students' answers. Then the students can "justify" their answers by sharing their strategies. While the student is explaining a strategy the teacher is recording the strategy on the board. What a great way to model recording strategies!
  • Teacher poses questions to the students to lead the conversation. By changing the question from "What answer did you get?" to "How did you solve this problem?" the teacher is able to understand how the students are making sense of mathematics.
  • Don't be afraid to share incorrect solutions. Wrong answers can lead to great classroom discussion and point out misconceptions a student may have.
4. The Role of Mental Math
  • Number Talks help the students focus on number relationships and use these relationships to solve problems. When students approach problems without paper and pencil, they are encouraged to rely on what they know and understand about the numbers and how they are interrelated.
5. Purposeful Computation Problems
  • Careful planning before a number talk is necessary to design the problem that is "just right." The learning target should determine the numbers and operations that are chosen.
Here is what Leander teachers are saying about Number Talks:
I begin class several times a week with number talks. This is a great way to get kids thinking about math concepts and not just memorizing "how the teacher said to do it". It also models how to communicate your math thinking. I see students using the same symbols that I modeled sometimes in their problem solving. We have a common format for communicating. By having the students defend their answers, it also helps them understand "justifying" when communicating solutions. Number talks are a great way to start a lesson.

JoJo Fentress 
2nd grade, Naumann Elementary

I use them almost everyday! We talk about numbers (odd/even, what comes before after on the number line, how many more/less to get to 5 or 10, different ways to represent a number - numeral, tallies, doubles, an octopus for 8, triangle for 3, twins for 2 and anything else we can thing of that relates to the number) and I use the dot cards. The kids love the dot cards!  One day I had a Watch Dog in my class during number talks. He owns his own computer gaming software company and is a really smart guy. He came over to me later and told me how impressed he was with the dot cards and what we were doing with them - especially since it was a kindergarten class. I have a pretty high math class overall, so I am also including partial number sentences when the kids tell me how they saw the dots. So for the number 8 we had things like:
I also have all the kids put up fingers as the person tells us how he saw the dots. That way they are actively participating and making the number. The biggest success is that kids don't just think of 8 as 8 and counting out 8 objects - they understand that it can be represented different ways and can be taken apart and put together many different ways.   
I also talked about the dot cards with parents at our parent teacher conferences. I wanted them to understand what we are doing with them. I had one mom tell me that they were what her second grader needed because she was struggling with her math facts. I told her that when her second grader was in kindergarten we did not have them.  :o(
Does it sound like I like number talks? You bet! It's always one of the most fun and engaging times of our day.

Colleen Welliver
Steiner Ranch Elementary

After doing Number Talks with my students, one of my students came in the next day and asked me very excitedly, "Can we do "Math Speaks" again?

Ann Hutton
1st Grade, Mason Elementary

You can learn more about Number Talks in the book:
Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies by Sherry Parrish

What are your thoughts about Number Talks? Please share! Post your comments below.