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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Buzzworthy Ideas: Back to School Math Blog Hop

Summer just flew by for me. I didn't accomplish even half of what I had planned for my classroom. Plus moving from first to fifth created a lot of new work. I did spend a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to start the year. Procedures and routines had to all get examined with such a huge change and I really wanted to start the year on the right foot. I didn't want to be rethinking and changing things early on. If you are in a similar boat or just want to think about how you are going to be setting  up for a great mathematical year or maybe you are looking for some great beginning of the year math ideas, then this hop is for you. We are all going to be talking about math at the beginning of the year.

It doesn't matter what grade you are teaching, we all have those students who are not very flexible with numbers. They are lacking the ability to play around with numbers and strategies and probably always go to the same strategy regardless of efficiency or accuracy. We can't teach them number sense but we can provide activities, tasks, games, and time for them to gain number sense. I am going to talk about a few quick routines that you can plug in at the beginning of your math time to help your students develop flexibility, efficiency, and accuracy.

In first grade I used a lot of activities from Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway.
Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
I built in a 5-10 minute time at the start of math where we used a variety of routines including the Rekenrek, ten frame cards, dice, dominoes, counting circles etc. It didn't take long, but it was consistent all year long. The Rekenrek is my all-time favorite because you can do so much with it. Last year I wrote a post about using the routines found in this book. They are especially good for K-1 students. You can read it about it here on my post from our Math Books That Will Change Your Teaching hop

With my grade change, I've had to rethink what I can use for number sense routines because older students need some time to develop number sense just as much as the younger ones do. I picked up Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and started reading. Younger grade teachers don't stop reading. My examples may be from fifth grade, but this book divides up into K-2 and 3-5 for a discussion of number talks and for lists of problems. 

Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
Reading the book got me thinking about implementing number talks,  but watching some of the videos on the included DVD is what really sold me on trying this. I started on day one of the school year with two-digit addition problems arranged horizontally that encouraged the use of making ten. I was shocked to see students who were trying to to "write" on the ground with their finger to solve the problem vertically with the standard U.S. algorithm. I'm glad they can do the algorithm, but these problems could have been solved quicker and easier by making tens. My students were choosing the hard way! I was so surprised by that. Another thing that surprised me is that they weren't comfortable explaining their reasoning. I am now 8 days into the school year and I already am seeing students solving in new ways, becoming more verbal about their thinking, and working more efficiently.

Here's what I love about this 15 minute routine at the start of my day:
  1. It's a 15-minute routine. Everyone knows what to do, what is expected and the only prep required is to come up with 3 problems for each day. I can do that on fly if need be, but I try to plan them ahead.
  2. Students use hand signals to show how many ways they can solve the problem and to show when they are in agreement with others.
  3. Discussion, discussion, discussion. I think that most of the learning takes place during the discussion and this routine is all about showing your thinking.
  4. Students gather at the carpet with no tools, no pencils, no paper. It's mental math. Which means that the transition time is virtually nada.
  5. Students verbally explain what they have done to solve the problem and the teacher is the scribe. That makes the pacing really move.
  6. I am doing a number talk each day Monday through Thursday, but on Friday we are doing a pencil and paper assessment with problems similar to those from the week. This gives me an easy assessment that shows what students can do individually. 
Here are a few pictures from the second week of school in my fifth grade classroom.

In this problem, I wrote down exactly what the student said. But with a little more discussion after the first three equations, the students corrected it to 40 + 30 and 700 + 600 and we continued on with the problem. Since place value is our first teaching topic as a grade level, I wanted my discussions to focus on place value also.

As we have moved into some larger numbers, we are still focusing on making tens so I purposely chose numbers that could be solved with this strategy. 10 + 10 was from adding the ones and the ten in 9,613. Everyone seemed to be following without any questions until the mathematician said that 20 + 20 = 40. We stopped and you can see in orange where we wrote out what was happening to get 20 + 20.

On Friday my students start directly on the weekly number talk assessment. They are required to solve the problems in two way. This assessment was from week one in my class. I wanted to start off with some easier problems and help build some confidence. My class has quite a few perfectionists and I didn't want any panicky students during the first week. I thought it was easy and was surprised at how difficult another solution was for many students. It also took them a lot longer to complete the five problems than I expected. I was also surprised at the number of times students got two different answers and just left it, or solved it twice in the same way. The second week, the difficulty of the test increased but my students still finished a lot quicker. I think it was because they were becoming more efficient with thinking about making tens and also in solving in multiple ways. 

Still not sold on trying number talks? Watch this short youtube video. It's a great little sales pitch if you need one.

Plus it really brings up a few points worth mentioning:
  1. The goal of number talks is to strengthen accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility.
  2. It provides opportunities for students to develop number sense.
  3. Students on auto-pilot don't consider things like the magnitude of the number or reasonability of their answer.
If you have the time, Sherry Parrish has another great video on youtube but it's about an hour and 15 minutes long.

I love the way she ties number talks into the mathematical practice standards and content standards of the CCSS. She also talks how students can have the correct answer and correct procedure but still not understand or make sense of the math.

If you would like a copy of my weekly assessment master, you can grab it by clicking on the picture.

For lots of great ideas to help you build strong mathematicians and get the year started out right, hop along to The Math Spot.


  1. It looks like your number talks are off to a great start! I think this routine has improved my teacher and my students understanding more than anything else!

    The Math Maniac

  2. LOVE Number Talks! They have been transformative for the students in my school. And the kiddos really enjoy them!

    Math Coach’s Corner

  3. Brandi. I am a stronger believer in Number Talks. Thanks for sharing how you use and assess it. It is always great to see student work and understand their misconceptions.

    Mr. Elementary Math

  4. I use Number Talks with my second graders and cannot wait to get started with them this new school year! As a former fifth grade teacher of many years (turned second grade teacher), I would LOVE to go back and do Number Talks with my fifth graders. I did a number talk with my parents at Meet the Teacher this year (they were the students), and it was POWERFUL. Parents understanding that their children will naturally approach solving different problems in a variety of ways (other than using the traditional algorithm), and are allowed to do so, is eye opening for them. I have the sibling of a last year student this year, and it was phenomenal to hear this parent talk about her son and how he approaches problems for all of the parents to hear. I cannot say enough how powerful number talks are!

    All the best on your new adventure in 5th grade--

  5. So much great and thorough information, I will definitely come back and read this again and bookmark this resource.

    - Deirdre, aka Evil Math Wizard

  6. I love the way in which you are organizing your math talks by focusing M-Th on a skill that you will then assess on Friday. I know sometimes math talks can seem disconnected and lacking in accountability or, conversely, when collecting students work for accountability daily the paperwork can be quite overwhelming. You have struck a really nice balance that I think I will try to emulate!