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Benefits of Math Talks With Kids
It’s no secret, friend. I love math talks! In fact, I’ve already written other blog posts with info and tips to help you get started, but today I’m going to talk more about the benefits of doing math talks with kids.
At the end of this post, you will find an opportunity to grab a freebie and tips to help you get started today!
Math talks, sometimes referred to as number talks, are (what I believe to be) the number one strategy to help kids become independent thinkers and confident in their math skills.
Our attitude about math with affect our mathematical achievement.
We want our kids to be confident, independent thinkers, critical thinkers, problem solvers, and have a positive outlook on math.
What Are Math Talks
Math talks are short discussions with students involving purposefully selected math problems that are designed to help students develop mental computation strategies. Students are encouraged to use multiple strategies while solving problems accurately. (Johnson & Partlo, 2014)
Benefits of Math Talks
- Supports inquiry-based mathematics
- Has positive affects on students mental mathematical abilities
- Improve number sense and conceptual understanding
- Encourages kids to think, communicate, and discuss math concepts
- Teaches kids to respect and validate others’ thinking
Number Talks Support Inquiry-Based Mathematics
Inquiry Based Education (IBE) can be attributed to John Dewey (1859-1952). In the world of education, he is known as one of the great American philosophers, psychologist, and education reformer.
According to an article published on University of Texas Arlington, “…inquiry-based learning is when teachers use questions, problems and scenarios to help students learn through individual thought and investigation. Instead of simply presenting facts, the teacher encourages students to talk about a problem and draw on their intuition to understand it.”
When doing math talks with kids, teachers and parents are encouraged to ask open-ended questions such as:
- What can you tell me about…?
- How do you know?
- Can you tell me why you think it’s…?
- What would happen if…?
- Did anyone come up with the same answer using a different strategy?
Leading with open ended questions, such as the ones above, set the stage for discussion rather than computation. It’s through the kids’ conversations where you will better understand their true understanding of mathematics.
Positive Affects on Mental Math
As teachers and parents, we want our kids to reach the point where they can solve computations quickly, in their head. That, in a sense, is what mental math is all about. However, to get to the point, we need to help kids build a strong conceptual understanding of numbers.
As you begin to build a routine of daily math talks, you will see the kids’ mental math improve. Day after day, as your kids talk, they share their ways of figuring things out, and listen to others’ who think differently. As a result, they begin to learn new methods and perspectives on math – one of which will resonate with them.
When these talks are led by the students thoughts, rather than being told to memorize computation, the kids are building their confidence.
“Fluency happens in the mind. No matter what the activity, confidence helps students be more successful.” (Olsen, 2015)
Improves Number Sense and Conceptual Understanding
Developing number sense and conceptual understanding through math talks is essential for the kids success in mathematics.
As an early childhood teacher, I often heard parents say their kid is so smart in math because they can count to 100, or solve a few addition problems, before they started kindergarten. First, I’m happy they have confidence in their kids learning abilities. Second, I’d encourage them to observe and see if the kids truly understand what that counting or adding means. More times than not, even though the kids could count to 100, they weren’t able to tell me what number comes before and after 14. Or, even though they can solve 2+2=4 for their parents, they weren’t able to tell me what the word “plus” means. This, friends, means they do not have a strong number sense or conceptual understanding.
Number sense is the ability to see patterns and relationships between numbers, to work flexibly with operations and procedures, to recognize order and relative quantities, and to utilize estimation and mental computation. (Lowber & Lamberg)
As prek, kindergarten, and first grade students are engaging in number talks, they are gaining an awareness of their own sense of numbers and computation, as well as learning from others who share their computation process.
Math Talks Encourage Kids to Think, Communicate, and Discuss Math Concepts
Math talks, whether at home, over remote learning, or in the classroom, are designed to encourage kids to think, express their thoughts, and discuss mathematics. You will notice an increase of engagement almost immediately when you present my monthly math talks to the kids.
For example, as seen in the October math talk card below, all you have to do is show the card and ask “What can you tell me about these trees?”.
Some common responses from the kids are: “They are big and small.”, “There are three yellow trees”, “There are two orange trees”, “There are three red trees”, “They are different colored leaves”, and “there are eight trees in all”.
Just by listening to kids’ responses, you will become aware of their mathematical understanding. The responses above show an understanding of math vocabulary such as big, small, different, and in all. From there, you can easily expand the discussion with questions such as “Which has more/less – the big or small trees?” Or, you can ask if anyone wants to share a number equation that would go with the picture. This is a great way to open up discussion. The important part, for you, is to never tell the kids they are “wrong”. Instead, ask them to explain how they came up with that answer. Typically, self correction happens through the discussion.
Teaching Kids to Respect and Validate Others’ Thinking
Learning how to listen to and respect others thinking is a life long skill. We should be teaching kids this skill from an early age. Number talks, if done right, are the perfect tool integrate social, language, and math skills. While a child speaks, the others should not interrupt. Instead, they are learning to listen to others thinking and computation strategies. As the teacher or parent, you are practicing accepting ones thoughts, by not telling the kids they are wrong. This, in turn, will teach the kids to respect and validate others thoughts.