Dawn DeKoker Oct 21 2021

Number Talks: Developing Flexible Thinking in Math

Concordia Elementary School students are doing "mental math" with the help of Number Talks, which has them thinking and talking their way through some interesting mathematics problems together as a class. Number Talks are a great, low-risk way for students to engage with various mathematical concepts.

Concordia-Shanghai-Number-TalkWhat is a Number Talk? 

A number talk is a short, 5-15 minute, classroom conversation around a carefully crafted computation problem in math, that can be solved mentally. Number talks provide a structured way for students to talk about math with their peers on a daily basis. In a number talk, students have a chance to think through their understanding of numbers as they solve problems in multiple ways and explain their reasoning. This powerful tool supports students in thinking flexibly, growing their repertoire of strategies, learning from peers, and articulating their thinking. 

Why use Number Talk?

Giving number talks honors the fact that we all see math problems differently and we solve problems in different ways. These differences are interesting and should be respected. In a number talk, there can be more than one way for solving a problem and students learn new ways to solve a single problem. Also, students learn from making mistakes and discussing those mistakes within their class community. This nurtures a mindset of growth and celebration of learning. 

What are the benefits of Number Talk? 

The main goal of a number talk is to get many students to share as many different strategies as possible for the problem. Inviting students to the conversation about how they were able to solve the problem builds the community of math learners. 

With number talks, students learn to be more flexible with numbers. They learn to take numbers apart and to put them back together again in creative ways. Being able to compose and decompose numbers, using number talks, is one way to practice this skill. Flexibility with numbers is an important foundational skill in number sense and algebra. The more students practice this skill, the more creative, confident, and fluent they will become. 

Another benefit of number talks is that it helps students to communicate their mathematical thinking and effective reasoning. They learn to use key vocabulary in order to express their ideas with clarity. 

Number talks involve all students in the class. Students listen, make connections and learn from each other. They can also be asked to try one of the new strategies as they solve a different problem.