Media Reality

Number Talks Chapter 1 – Thumbs Up for the Silent Thumb

I’m linking up with my friend Misty over at Think, Wonder, & Teach for her summer book study of Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5

Given that I’m wrapping up a K-5 Math Endorsement this month, this is a timely book for me. I love to teach math far more than I ever anticipated that I would when I entered this profession, and I really enjoy getting students to share and discuss their mathematical thinking. I’ve noticed, however, that many students lack strong mental math and computation strategies, relying instead on memorization to get them by. By the time they get to 4th grade, that’s not really a viable strategy anymore. They’re starting to work with much larger numbers, and they subsequently have more parts and steps to keep straight in their heads. If they don’t have great mental math strategies going, then it’s likely to become a mess pretty quickly. They can always solve problems on paper, but unless they have the good number sense that goes with doing mental math, they’ll never be able to gauge the reasonableness of their answers. In those regards, this book seems like a great idea.

Chapter 1 really just introduces the concept of a number talk, and Misty does a great job summarizing it, so I won’t go into that here. One of my favorite teaching ideas from the book so far, however, was the idea of the “Silent Thumb.” When students are given a mental math problem, they need some “think time.” But every class has 2-3 students who are super math-letes who have the answer before the rest of the class has even processed what problem they’re being asked to solve, and those kids with their proud “I know! I’ve got it!” hand-waving typically end up dominating the conversation. The “silent thumb” solves that problem. All students hold their hand in a fist over their chest as they solve the problem. When they’ve got an answer, they move their hand from a fist to a “thumbs up.” They then think of another strategy to solve it while the other students are thinking, and for each additional strategy they come up with, they extend a finger. Awesome, right? I love how this gives all students some think time without creating pressure for some kids to hurry up because the fist is held close to the body — not waved in the air for everyone else to see. It also validates those super math-letes for their mathematical thinking by allowing them to communicate to the teacher that they have multiple strategies for solving the problem. And if they don’t have multiple strategies, then they have something to think about while the others are working.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about Number Talks, and I’m excited to delve into this book a bit more. I’ll be posting more about this book in the weeks to come as I link up with Misty’s book study.

If you don’t currently have a copy of Number Talks, you can still read the first chapter online. The book is a little bit pricier than most professional development books, but it comes with a DVD full of examples and it has a lot of resources packed in the text. If you’re looking to increase students’ mental math abilities, then this could be a great resource to use.

Be sure to check out Misty’s Number Talks chapter 1 linky party where you can add some ideas of your own or read what other teacher bloggers are saying about the book. I promise you’ll find some great ideas there!

And click here to see my review of Chapter 2!

Have you ever done Number Talks in your classroom? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!

Thanks for reading,