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November 28, 2016

"Number Talks" to Grow Mathematical Minds

By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    I constantly tell my students that I care SO much more about their mathematical thinking than about the “right answer.” I want my students to be creative mathematicians who can find their own paths to a solution rather than blindly following a prescribed set of steps or rules. I want them to be flexible thinkers who can find more than one way towards a solution. And I want my students to be expert communicators who can follow the mathematical thinking of their peers, question, critique, and ultimately learn from one another.

    That is why number talks have become a routine part of my classroom teaching. Daily number talks are 10 minutes well spent towards building wonderful computational skills, reinforcing number sense, and working on the habits of mind that not only make my students stronger mathematicians, but also stronger problem solvers and communicators in all academic areas. Read on for tips and resources about how to host number talks and to watch a video of a number talk in action in my classroom.

     

    What Are Number Talks?

    Number talks are brief discussions (5–15 minutes) that focus on student solutions for a single, carefully chosen mental math computation problem. Students share their different mental math processes aloud while the teacher records their thinking visually on a chart or board. The teacher often names the strategies each student uses. Other students may question, critique, or build on the strategies that are shared.

    Number Talks Book Cover

    I first learned about number talks during a book club study with some of my colleagues. Together we read the Math Solutions book Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Grades K–5, and watched the accompanying DVD. We decided that we all wanted to try out number talks in our own classrooms, and we took turns filming and learning from the number talks routines we each developed with our students. No time to read the book? Check out the articles and videos posted in the resource list below. This Scholastic video lecture by the book’s author is particularly thorough in explaining the how to implement number talks.

     

    Steps for a Typical Number Talk

    • Teacher presents an expression or problem for students to solve mentally.

    • Allow adequate “wait time” for most students to come up with an answer. Students can signal with a thumbs up when they have solved the expression.

    • Initially, invite students to share their answers only, not their solutions.

    • Then ask for student volunteers to share how they solved the problem.

    • For each student who shares their solution strategy, chart their thinking on the board. Make sure to accurately record their thinking; do not shape or correct their response.

    • Have several students who used different strategies share their thinking with the class.

    • Invite students to question each other about their strategies, compare and contrast the strategies, and ask for clarification about strategies that are confusing.

    Number Talk Hand Signals Anchor Chart

     

    Watch A Subtraction Number Talk in My Classroom

    In this video (below), my students use mental math to calculate the difference between the high and low temperatures forecasted for the day (38°F–25°F). Then we did a number talk so students could share their varied strategies for this subtraction expression. My students had many, many experiences with number talks prior to this one, so they were comfortable critiquing each other’s strategies, particularly with an emphasis on finding efficient strategies.

    [brightcove:5212918265001]

     

    Resources to Learn More about Number Talks

    • Inside Mathematics Number Talks Video Clips: This education nonprofit has a series of videos of number talks in classrooms on a variety of grade levels. Each set of number talk videos also includes a debrief with the featured teacher.

    • "Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning":  This is an excellent article from NCTM journal Teaching Children Mathematics. If you don’t have time to read a book about number talks or do extensive research, this article provides everything you need to get started with number talks with a solid understanding of the pedagogy.

    • Number Talks Professional Development Video Lecture:  Scholastic hosted this excellent and comprehensive video lecture by the author of the original Number Talks book, Sherry Parrish. In the video, she covers a lot of the same ground as the book, explaining how to strengthen students' accuracy, efficiency and flexibility with mental math and computation strategies.

    • Number Talks Toolkit:  The Math Perspectives Teacher Development Center has several helpful resources including Tips for Implementing Numbers Talks “cheat sheets” and a helpful article about the difference between number talks and lessons.

    Do you use number talks in your classroom? I’d love to hear about how you’ve adapted the technique to your students’ needs. Please reach out in the comments section below, on Facebook, or on Twitter

    I constantly tell my students that I care SO much more about their mathematical thinking than about the “right answer.” I want my students to be creative mathematicians who can find their own paths to a solution rather than blindly following a prescribed set of steps or rules. I want them to be flexible thinkers who can find more than one way towards a solution. And I want my students to be expert communicators who can follow the mathematical thinking of their peers, question, critique, and ultimately learn from one another.

    That is why number talks have become a routine part of my classroom teaching. Daily number talks are 10 minutes well spent towards building wonderful computational skills, reinforcing number sense, and working on the habits of mind that not only make my students stronger mathematicians, but also stronger problem solvers and communicators in all academic areas. Read on for tips and resources about how to host number talks and to watch a video of a number talk in action in my classroom.

     

    What Are Number Talks?

    Number talks are brief discussions (5–15 minutes) that focus on student solutions for a single, carefully chosen mental math computation problem. Students share their different mental math processes aloud while the teacher records their thinking visually on a chart or board. The teacher often names the strategies each student uses. Other students may question, critique, or build on the strategies that are shared.

    Number Talks Book Cover

    I first learned about number talks during a book club study with some of my colleagues. Together we read the Math Solutions book Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Grades K–5, and watched the accompanying DVD. We decided that we all wanted to try out number talks in our own classrooms, and we took turns filming and learning from the number talks routines we each developed with our students. No time to read the book? Check out the articles and videos posted in the resource list below. This Scholastic video lecture by the book’s author is particularly thorough in explaining the how to implement number talks.

     

    Steps for a Typical Number Talk

    • Teacher presents an expression or problem for students to solve mentally.

    • Allow adequate “wait time” for most students to come up with an answer. Students can signal with a thumbs up when they have solved the expression.

    • Initially, invite students to share their answers only, not their solutions.

    • Then ask for student volunteers to share how they solved the problem.

    • For each student who shares their solution strategy, chart their thinking on the board. Make sure to accurately record their thinking; do not shape or correct their response.

    • Have several students who used different strategies share their thinking with the class.

    • Invite students to question each other about their strategies, compare and contrast the strategies, and ask for clarification about strategies that are confusing.

    Number Talk Hand Signals Anchor Chart

     

    Watch A Subtraction Number Talk in My Classroom

    In this video (below), my students use mental math to calculate the difference between the high and low temperatures forecasted for the day (38°F–25°F). Then we did a number talk so students could share their varied strategies for this subtraction expression. My students had many, many experiences with number talks prior to this one, so they were comfortable critiquing each other’s strategies, particularly with an emphasis on finding efficient strategies.

    [brightcove:5212918265001]

     

    Resources to Learn More about Number Talks

    • Inside Mathematics Number Talks Video Clips: This education nonprofit has a series of videos of number talks in classrooms on a variety of grade levels. Each set of number talk videos also includes a debrief with the featured teacher.

    • "Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning":  This is an excellent article from NCTM journal Teaching Children Mathematics. If you don’t have time to read a book about number talks or do extensive research, this article provides everything you need to get started with number talks with a solid understanding of the pedagogy.

    • Number Talks Professional Development Video Lecture:  Scholastic hosted this excellent and comprehensive video lecture by the author of the original Number Talks book, Sherry Parrish. In the video, she covers a lot of the same ground as the book, explaining how to strengthen students' accuracy, efficiency and flexibility with mental math and computation strategies.

    • Number Talks Toolkit:  The Math Perspectives Teacher Development Center has several helpful resources including Tips for Implementing Numbers Talks “cheat sheets” and a helpful article about the difference between number talks and lessons.

    Do you use number talks in your classroom? I’d love to hear about how you’ve adapted the technique to your students’ needs. Please reach out in the comments section below, on Facebook, or on Twitter

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