Monday, July 21, 2014

Mathy Monday-Number Talks

Testing, this thing on?  It's been a while since I've blogged, but like many of you, my brain is shifting back into school mode whether I like it or not! So I'm jumping right back in with a Mathy Monday post about Number Talks, one of my favorite parts of my entire day.  So let's get to it!  

What is a Number Talk?
Have you ever stumbled upon something, a product or simple routine, that yields amazing results?  This past year, for me, it was the number talk routine.  This short 15-20 minute snippet of our day transformed my students into mathematical communicators, capable of speaking about their conceptual understanding, constructing arguments about their problem solving, questioning and critiquing the reasoning of others, and eventually, using this foundation to write about their thinking.

A number talk is a daily routine in which students have a chance to deepen their mathematical thinking.  For teachers, number talks are a great way to quickly and informally assess understanding while helping students transition from ineffective to more effective and efficient problem solving techniques.  During number talks, a problem is posed, students solve the problem individually using their mental computation skills, then students discuss their problem solving while the teacher records their method. In the primary grades, number talks focus on developing number sense, building fluency with small numbers, subitizing, and making tens.  In the intermediate grades, number talks still focus on deepening number sense, but also develops place value understanding, builds fluency, strengthens properties of operations and helps connect mathematical ideas.  Number talks provide big bang for your buck!

Where do you even begin?!
 As with any new routine,  it's all about consistency and implementation.  First, decide what mathematical idea you want the students to consider.  Is it strategies for adding multi-digit numbers?  Building equal groups from a set?  Or determining a quantity of counters on a ten-frame.  The beauty of number talks is that they can be modified and adapted to address almost any mathematical concept. 

Next, set the purpose for your students and introduce the routine.
In my classroom, a problem is posed, students silently solve the problem mentally, then they give a "secret thumbs-up" (thumbs-up in front of their body) to let me know they have solved the problem.  When the majority of thumbs in the room are up, I begin to cold-call students to share their thinking aloud with the class.  As they share, it is your job to ask questions to help clarify and solidify their understanding.  Over time, students will begin to ask questions of each other as their curiosity grows.  Modeling good questioning and providing students with thinking stems is key in promoting student-to-student interaction.  Simple stems like "How did you know to..." or "Why did you choose to..." and "I'm curious about the way you..." can promote a spirit of inquiry, which strengthens understanding for the student explaining, as well as those listening.  

Now, this is important, in my classroom, we emphasize the thinking behind the problem solving, as opposed to the correct answer.  And because of that, mistakes will be made.  But guess what?  There is power in mistake making.  My favorite mathematician, Jo Boaler explains it: 
 Allowing students to work through the thinking behind their mistakes has proven to be extremely powerful in my classroom.  Of course, the environment in which students have a sense of safety to be able to take risks without fear of being labeled a failure is crucial in developing the growth mindset that Jo mentions above.  

So, what does it look like?
Number talks look different in every classroom, and as a teacher, you modify it to meet your students learning styles and needs.  Youtube has tons of sample number talk lessons that teachers have shared from around the country.  Here are a few of my favorites that illustrate how different it can look, yet also show how powerful the mathematical conversations can be.

My students loved the number talk routine this past year, and as their teacher, I loved the impact a small routine had on deepening student understanding, developing mathematical communication skills, and building confidence in our learning.  I will definitely continue to number talk with my 3rd graders this upcoming school year. If you still have some fight left in you, I encourage you to check out "Number Talks" by Sherry Parrish.

So what about you?  Do you number talk?  What has your experience been?

Happy Mathy Monday!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Test

It's that time of year...time for the big TEST!!  For my 3rd graders, this is their first experience with State standardized testing, which means as their teacher, I have a big responsibility.  Yes, I must prepare them academically, but more importantly, I have to make sure that their first testing experience is a positive one.  So, like many classrooms all over the country, we go into "test prep mode".

I begin at least a month out, usually around Spring Parent Conference time.  I make sure to talk to parents about the test and what they can expect.  I also ask them to write an encouraging note for their child so that when we begin testing, their child has that extra little bit of motivation to help them get through those long days.  In the past, my students have really LOVED these special notes.  Most of the time they have notes from their parent or guardian, but every now and then, a drawing from a little brother or sister makes it into the mix.  No matter who the note is from, the look of pride on my students' faces are priceless.

Another big component of "test prep" is minimizing fears and maximizing confidence.  We talk honestly about the test-how long the sessions will be, what our days will look like, and what types of things will be covered on the test.  They usually have TONS of questions, but taking time to talk these things out usually helps students feel less anxious.

In the weeks leading up to standardized testing, I do everything in my power to give my students as many opportunities for success as possible.  This looks different for every student, but these small moments help build confidence.  Every chance I get, I provide feedback for the things they are doing well, and then help to guide them one step further.

As testing gets closer (next week, for us) I always make a point to read "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day", by Dr. Seuss (and Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith).  This is one of my all time favorite books that highlights individuality and creative thinking.  My students can connect to the students at Diffendoofer School, who are also taking a big test.  Of course, because they have been taught to think, they succeed.  Awww! 

When it's time to cover the walls, I plaster them with motivational quotes and messages of support.  I want to leave no doubt in their minds that I truly believe in them and think the world of them, regardless of the outcome of the test.  And of course, being mature enough for testing makes you also mature enough for special treats and surprises along the way.

Do you have any "test prep" rituals that help get your students through testing?  I'd love to hear, so share away!  

March Currently

Ugh!  Where did February go?  I spent the last week protesting the arrival of March (because, really, what happened to February?!) by pretending it wasn't here.  It didn't work out so well, so I guess I'll finally post my March Currently with Farley from Oh' Boy 4th Grade.
I can accomplish so much more when the T.V. isn't distracting me, and I have way too much that I need to accomplish, so Spotify it is.  I L.O.V.E. the warm weather that we've had lately, because recess and duty is so much more enjoyable when you aren't shivering.  But... warm weather brings with it energetic...squirrely...hyper kids, so I can't help but think that Spring Break can't come soon enough.  Two more weeks!  I want a second weekend to prepare for this week.  I only have my evaluation observation, lesson plans, newsletters, copies, and centers to prepare.  And finally, the mystery answers- What are things that gross you out for $1000, please. 

Looking to procrastinate, or finally acknowledge March?  Link up with Farley. 

Happy Sunday!