Number Talks: First in a series

Number talks:  This is the first in a series of blogs on number talks.

Number talks are everywhere in elementary classrooms!   There are numerous blogs, books, videos, and talks on number talks.   There are even many definitions.  The one I like  comes from our Curriculum Lead, Brian Bushart:   “A number talk is a powerful tool for helping students develop computational fluency because the expectation is that they will use number relationships and the structures of numbers to add, subtract, multiply and divide.”   I like to add “and it’s fun, because we are playing with the numbers”.  

A number talk is NOT:

  • A time to teach how to do something.  Occasionally, I will slip a “lesson” in to show a strategy I want to highlight.  It takes the form of “I once saw a student named Oscar solve a problem like this in this way:___________”   I am very stingy in using this, because a strategy or way of thinking is more powerful if it comes from the students.
  • A story problem….these are great opportunities for talking and learning, but they are not number talks.  
  • Computing on paper–although some students may need a sticky note for “holding onto” thinking.  This is a support for differentiation as your students may need it.
  • Long…not more than 10-15 minutes.
  • A time to “correct” student thinking.  Again, as students discuss their thinking, it is far more powerful to glean that “aha!” moment from their peers.

A number talk IS:

  • A numbers only math problem carefully selected by the teacher  to provide practice on a specific skill.
  • A single problem, OR a string of related problems.
  • Dot arrangements-yes these are for students of all ages!  
  • An opportunity for students to try out and make sense of the thinking of others.
  • Mental computation
  • Formative assessment-and you will learn a LOT about your students’ thinking!

Getting Started:  

If you have never included a number talk in your math time, be kind to yourself and start small.  Like one every week to week-and-a-half.  As you get more comfortable with number talks, you can plan them more frequently.  Most teachers I work with plan them about 3 times a week.  

  • Planning:  The Why, the What, and the How.
  • Establishing norms in your classroom so that number talks are “safe”
  • Setting up the routines in your classroom
  • How to record your number talks.
  • How to gather data throughout the number talks.

Share you have learned with others so that number talks spread!

Some favorite resources for Number Talks:

  • Number Sense Routines, by Jessica Shumway
  • Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
  • Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish.  This one has TONS of possibilities, as well as a DVD of sample number talks with real kids.  
  • Follow #NumberTalks on Twitter!  Then follow some of the folks there!



Digging Deeper: Math Rocks Mission #3

Math Rocks, Mission #3:

Our mission last week watching this talk, a ShadowCon2016 talk, by Graham Fletcher, and become inspired to look deeper into our state standards.   As I read what teachers have written and  shared, I have noticed so many writing about the process standards!   How exciting!   For teachers in Texas, the process standards tell us HOW the students will approach learning math. The teachers are now planning how to bring life to mathematics using the verbs found within the process standards!   Yay!  It is going to be fun!


Regardless of which standards we  were digging into, the common thread was “I never noticed that ___________ was/was NOT in the TEKS before!”   My own personal moment of clarity was regarding recall of the facts in 3rd grade!   Now, we teachers are committing  to including this new understanding in our teaching, whether it means that we are going to go deeper with our students, or “stay in our lane” because something that I  have always done is actually found within the standards of a different grade level.  


And this is just in math!  


I’m wondering what would happen if as a collaborative group, we “dug deep” into the standards in every content area, and looked for those pearls of understanding?!?!  How do we make the time for something so important?    I’m still reflecting about that.   More to follow.  





I lived in Los Angeles for a time in the ‘80s, and grew to love a couple of guys on the radio.  In the ‘90’s, as I still followed them, they coined a phrase “EGBOK”.  It stands for “Everything’s Gonna Be OK.”   You could even get buttons or T-shirts.  Anytime life got a little rough, someone would say “EGBOK”.  It was part of the common language at the time.


I realised today, that I got the gift of EGBOK as I begin this new year.  Like teachers everywhere, the beginning of a new school year is full of emotions–highs and lows.  You have a fresh start—a high, followed by new teachers and new students—a low, a high and everything in between.  Data is coming in from last year–a definite bit of stress, and then you have to get your classroom ready, attend meetings, professional development, more meetings, get your own kids ready, and readjust from having some glorious and well-earned time off.


I have a new AP this year.  What a gift she has turned out to be!  She is calm, sensible, and knowledgeable.  She loves kids and wants what’s best for them.  While I was talking to her, I just felt better.


When I got back to my desk, I realized, she is like an EGBOK button.  Everything IS going to be ok.  It will be a little crazy for a while, but I have an amazing team of teachers to work with, and there are people to collaborate with and share the load.


My next thought was:  We need to be EGBOK buttons for our students!  They have a new class, with different kids, new teacher, new school supplies to get, maybe they are changing schools.  Maybe they live in circumstances that mean they don’t get new supplies.  It is OK.  Maybe they are filled with anxiety because they struggle to learn.  It is OK.  Their teacher is going to love them. Their teacher is going to support them.  We will be the EGBOK buttons for our students…that little place of calm, and caring where they will know in their hearts that everything really is going to be ok.


We got this!   EGBOK!  


#EGBOK    #ILOVEmyNewAP  #newschoolyear