In our district, we have been pushing Number Talks as a strategy to get students (and teachers) thinking mathematically. The beauty of Number Talks is that the focus is on how the student is thinking, not on the answer. Being a math mentor teacher for special education teachers, this is one strategy that I can model fairly quickly for teachers. Here is what I have noticed doing them:
- No matter what, I cannot predict all of the strategies. I have tried to plan by predicting their strategies how I am going to record their thinking – especially trying to bring in visual models. But there are always students that surprise me with how they are thinking. These students have improved my ability to ask questions.
- Start with a problem that you think might be too easy for students. I was in a sixth grade class and we did an addition problem that I thought was fairly straightforward. The number of strategies that students were able provide was amazing – and the principal was in the room to hear all of it! The next week, we did a multiplication problem. The students grasped on to the traditional algorithm and did not provide the same variety of strategies.
- Listen and learn from your students. My favorite Number Talk to do is a dot number talk that I saw in Jo Boaler’s “How to Learn Math” course. I love this dot number talk because it brings out how people see things, and possibly how people see numbers. It also surprises everyone how complex dots can be. My favorite explanation of the dots is from Matt, a student who was in a low math class. Here’s his thinking:Matt saw the dots as two lines that cross and then three separate distinct dots on the outside. He also realized that where the two lines intersected, he had counted that dot twice so he needed to subtract one dot. Pretty complex thinking from a “low level” math student!
Matt made me realize two things. 1) I need to listen to how students see the world of math to help me choose the next steps I need to take with them. 2) Just because a student has been labeled as low in math does not mean that they see the world of math as any less complex.
I could go on and on about Number Talks and all the learning that is going on around them – for students and for teachers – but I’ll save that for a later post where I look at how teachers view them.