This week, we began Number Talks during our math instruction
time. Number talks are classroom conversations about simple math problems that are
solved mentally. Mental math helps students to gain a better ‘number sense’ and
build upon number relationships instead of relying on memorized procedures. By
using mental math, students become familiar with how numbers interact. Students
use this as an opportunity to recognize misconceptions and investigate thinking
and learn from mistakes.

Here’s how it works: the class gathers in the front of the
classroom and is presented a problem such as 19 + 21. The class is asked to
think about how to solve the problem. When they have the answer, they put a
thumb up on their chest. If they are finished before the talk begins, they are
asked to think of another way to solve the problem.

When the students all have at least one answer, I take
solutions from students and then write them on the board. I have the student
talk the class through the mental process they used for solving the problem.
Students defend or justify their answers to the group. For example, one way a
student may solve this problem is by taking the 1 from 21 and making the number
20, then adding that 1 to 19 and making that 20. Mentally adding 20 + 20 is
easier than mentally adding 19 + 21. Students defend or justify their answers
to the group. Another way to solve this problem would be to add the 10 from 19
and the 20 from 21 to equal 30, then add the 1 and the 9 to equal 10, then add
the 30 and 10 to equal 40. A video example of a number talks lesson can be
found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPEfxPgZJy4

We talk about ‘friendly numbers’. These are numbers that are
easy to add in your head, like base ten numbers. We also talk about ‘decomposing’
numbers, which is like the example above of taking the 1 away from 21 and
adding it elsewhere.

As the problems become more complex, mistakes will be made,
and that is when a lot of learning happens. Students often recognize mistakes
as the problem is being solved aloud. Number talks help your child to make
sense of mathematics, develop efficient computation strategies, and learn from
mistakes that are made.

You can practice your own small number talks in the car,
while you are at home, or anytime. Your student will become better at math if
you do!

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