So, I’m starting out today with a pop quiz. Ha ha. What do the following number sentences have in common? NO calculators!
They all equal 120, don’t they? Do you see why? Each of the expressions is really just another way to write 15 x 8. The numbers 15 and 8 have been decomposed (broken down) into smaller factors in each of the expressions. Rich problem sets such as this one are the basis for number talks in the classroom.
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Years ago, our district purchased Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Grades K–5 as a professional development resource for the campus instructional coaches. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was transformational for me! In short, it should be in every single elementary math classroom.
Number talks, as described in this particular book, are short, 10-15 minute, warm-up activities focusing on mental math strategies. The book includes a great section describing what number talks are and how to use them in the classroom, and then the rest of the book is organized by grade levels—explaining what number talks look like at each grade level and providing pages with problem sets that can be used to promote certain strategies. Here’s a peek inside the book.
Now, it doesn’t appear to be a friendly book at first glance. In fact, several coaches said they found it intimidating. That’s why I would suggest you start by viewing some of the video clips sprinkled throughout the book. Seeing numbers talks in action in real classrooms makes it seem so much more doable.
Now, I want you to think carefully about the title of the book—Number TALKS. Who is doing the talking? If you said the teacher, you’d be wrong! The kiddos are the star of this show. Basically, this is another one of those situations where you don’t teach—the kiddos discover! Your job is to plan problem sets that will lead them toward a particular strategy (and they’re included in the book), scribe their thinking, and facilitate new learning.
Here’s my testimonial. You might think your students won’t have the strategies that the kids in the video use. Let me tell you, they will surprise you! I have never seen students more engaged and excited about math than I have when I’m doing number talks. And the speed of the results shocked me! In just a couple weeks’ time, students became much more confident in their strategies and grew in their ability to explain their mathematical thinking. A teacher in one of the video clips states that she has walked through a door, and she will never go back. I can guarantee that you will feel that way, too!
Can you tell I like number talks?