By Cory Bennett
January 12, 2017
Learning to think and behave like a mathematician is central to success students have in learning mathematics. This can include such things as making sense of mathematical contexts or situations, recognizing key elements in relationships, learning to
reason about why these key elements matter, and practicing how to listen to their fellow students’ ideas as well as articulate understandings in a clear and logical manner. Yet, anyone who has taught in the middle grades knows that it is far from easy to get students to think and behave like a mathematician,
especially with the myriad of “tricks” they bring to class.
Number talks are a great way to teach in a student-centric manner as they help students learn to think and behave like a mathematician. Number talks are often short, five to ten minute, whole-class moments wherein students mentally calculate solutions to
computational exercises to develop flexibility in thinking and reasoning. Students share their ideas on how and why they solved the expression the way they did and the teacher records the student’s thinking in a non-evaluative manner, probing for clarification if specific steps or decisions are unclear.
While these moments of reasoning about mathematics are tremendous in helping students develop conceptual understanding and fluency through computational practice, most materials available are still intended for elementary settings or focus primarily on elementary content.
I have worked closely with elementary teachers with implementing number talks in their classrooms with amazing results. However, as a former middle school mathematics teacher, and in conversations with current middle school teachers, I began to think
about how to adapt and modify number talks to make for a better “fit” in the middle grades. This curiosity led a group of mathematics educators to explore and play with new ways to leverage the benefits of number talks for middle grade students that go beyond calculations and computational reasoning and
consider how to use more advanced content and problem solving practices. As with most things in teaching and learning, it is a process. During this session at NCTM, I look forward to sharing what we have learned and hope participants will come ready to share how they, too, are making number talks more meaningful
for middle grades students by helping them think and behave like mathematicians!
Be sure not to miss Cory's session at the 2017 NCTM Annual Meeting in San Antonio:
Number Talks in the Middle Grades: Focusing on Student Reasoning
Number talks are ideal in supporting procedural and conceptual understanding of mathematics but implementation in the middle grades is different than elementary grades due to the nature of the content. This session will present ideas for middle level teachers looking to learn how to implement number talks in their classroom.