What are number talks and why are they important?

Wednesday 22 May

At Living Faith, our students participate in short number talks at the beginning of most Maths lessons. Number talks are an important component of our Maths program as they help our students to develop number sense and number facts.

What is number sense?

Professor Jo Boaler from Stanford University explains clearly why developing number sense is so important for students:

“Researchers have found that the difference between low and high achieving students in Maths is that high achievers used number sense whereas low achievers did not. For example, The high achievers approached problems such as 19 + 7 by changing the problem into, for example, 20 + 6. The researchers concluded that low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorise methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly. This incorrect pathway means that they are often learning a harder mathematics and sadly, they often face a lifetime of mathematics problems”.

What are number talks?

“One of the best methods for teaching number sense and Maths facts at the same time is a teaching strategy called ‘number talks’, developed by Ruth Parker and Kathy Richardson. This is an ideal short teaching activity that teachers can start lessons with or parents can do at home. It involves posing an abstract math problem such as 18 x 5 and asking students to solve the problem. The teacher then collects the different methods and looks at why they work. For example a teacher may pose 18 x 5 and find that students solve the problem in these different ways:

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Students love to give their different strategies and are usually completely engaged and fascinated by the different methods that emerge. Students learn mental Maths, they have opportunities to memorise Maths facts and they also develop conceptual understanding of numbers and of the arithmetic properties that are critical to success in algebra and beyond. Research tells us that the best mathematics classrooms are those in which students learn number facts and number sense through engaging activities that focus on Mathematical understanding rather than rote memorisation”.

Read more about research evidence on the best ways to learn Maths facts here.

If you would like to know more about number sense, please watch this short video.

- Rebecca McConnell, Director of Learning and Innovation