What I Noticed doing Number Talks

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Slide06 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:Slide2Matt 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.

3 thoughts on “What I Noticed doing Number Talks

  1. I, too, find Number Talks so powerful!! They simply change everything! I also love how students surprise me with their strategies. I did a number talk once in a 4th grade classroom – 45 x 16. The classroom had been working in Geometry with angles and circles…one boy said he knew the answer was 720 because since it takes 8-45 degree angles to make one 360 degree circle, it would be two of those for 720. I was floored! That never would have happened if the classroom teacher had only showed the algorithm for multiplication. Simply magical!!


  2. Nice job on your explanation in your post. I, too, took Jo Baeler’s course. I haven’t tried number talks yet but kind of with Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns. Have you checked those out? I do like being able to predict kids’ strategies, but I love when I have the Aha moment when they share a new method I didn’t even see.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s