The year was 2015, I was hired for my first contract position in a Grade 7 homeroom. I was ready to make my mark on the education community and get involved in every aspect of the school community I could and become the BEST TEACHER EVER. Well, I succeeded in being the best teacher ever - I have the award covered in minion stickers that I received from a student for the end of the year - but I also enrolled in an intense course of Math PD.
The math PD that was all the rage that year was focused on Math Talks. Normally, I am a little hesitant to go to PD because sometimes I have found it sounds really nice but is a logistical nightmare to try and incorporate into the classroom. Not this time...
This time we were lucky to receive a book called Making Number Talks Matter - Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. This book quickly became my "go-to" book when planning math lessons (along with my Van De Walle). In this book you will find instructions on how to do math talks and what they are all about.
I will summarize here:
A math talk is a 10 to 15 minute talk that only requires posting a pre-selected question (you can use examples from the book and then adapt your own) on the board and asking students to solve it.
The catch - they can't use a calculator or pencil or paper. The math has to be done entirely using mental math strategies.
Here is a problem - try and solve it in your head and don't scroll down. Think of what strategies you used. (*hint* All questions are written horizontally to avoid rote algorithms like "Stack and solve")
9 x 16
But who cares about mental math? (We all carry calculators in our pockets now anyway.) Mental math in this case is not about knowing your times tables or being able to solve problems quickly. Here it is about selecting the appropriate strategy and breaking down a question into parts.
When students are ready to answer they give you hand signals (shown below). The teacher then asks the student to provide their answer, and asks the class if anyone had a different answer. Once everyone has agreed on the same answer, the teacher scribes what the students suggest for their strategies. As a teacher you would ask for several strategies and I like to name it with the student's name.
Which strategy did you use?
So my anecdote goes like this. I used this everyday for about 3 months, and I gradually saw the students become more and more confident solving problems. One day, near the 2 month mark, one of my weakest math students (who NEVER participated in math talks) shyly raised his hand. He had an answer that was already on the board and now he was confident his technique worked. He shared his thinking and we wrote out his strategy on chart paper - we named it "James's Strategy" and kept it posted for the rest of the class and next... The next day as we were doing a math talk, one of my students answered a similar question to the day before . When asked what strategy they used, they replied "James's Strategy" - my shy James beamed :) It was such a proud moment for him to be able to contribute to the classroom.
From that moment, this student began participating regularly and raised his mark from the low 50s into the high 60s. For me it was a very proud teaching moment and I can never say enough good things about number talks.
Go and get yourself a copy now!