Tag Archives: Number Talks

3rd Grade Dot Image

The third grade team is planning for a dot image number talk that focuses on this standard:

“Apply properties of operations as strategies to multiply and divide.2Examples: If 6 × 4 = 24 is known, then 4 × 6 = 24 is also known. (Commutative property of multiplication.) 3 × 5 × 2 can be found by 3 × 5 = 15, then 15 × 2 = 30, or by 5 × 2 = 10, then 3 × 10 = 30. (Associative property of multiplication.) Knowing that 8 × 5 = 40 and 8 × 2 = 16, one can find 8 × 7 as 8 × (5 + 2) = (8 × 5) + (8 × 2) = 40 + 16 = 56. (Distributive property.)”

Before this talk the students have been doing work with equal groups and are moving into array work with the arranging chairs activity in Investigations. They have also been doing dot images with smaller groups and have noticed the commutative property as arranging the same dots into different-sized groups.

These are the three images we are playing around with and anticipating which would would draw out the most interesting strategies based on the properties. We are thinking of having a journal entry afterwards to see if students make any connections between the strategies.

So if you feel like playing around with some dot images and doing some math, I would love anyone’s thoughts on which image you would choose and why!

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The start of my planning….

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My new thoughts on these images and responses…


After chatting with a few friends yesterday and thinking about which image would elicit the most expressions that could allow students to see some connections between the properties of operations, I am thinking about some changes to the images (in orange).

In image 1, I am wondering if we should split each group of 8 into fours but leave a bigger space between the top four groups and bottom four groups. It may allow students to better see the 4’s and then group them as 8’s and at the same time thinking about “doubling” the top group to get the total because of symmetry. They could then explore ideas like (4 x 4) + (4 x 4) = 4 x 4 x 2  or (4 x 2) x 4 = (4 x 4) x 2 [associative property] or 8 x 4 = (4×4) + (4 x 4) [distributive property] or any fun mix of them. If we leave it as it is, I think it may be hard to move them past 4 x 8, skip counting by 8’s or using 2’s.

In the second image, I love the structure of it but am wondering how students could use that 4 in the middle aside from just adding it on each time? Will we just end up with a lot of expressions with “+4” at the end? I am wondering what would happen if we adding an extra group of four next to it? Would students see the structure of a 5 and double it in some way? (5×4)x2 = 10 x 4 or 5x(2×4)=(5×4)x2 [associative] or 5 x 8 = 10 x 4 [doubling/halving] or 2×4 + 2×4 + 2×4 + 2×4 + 2×4 = 10 x 4

Then what question to pose at the end? Do we ask them to freely choose two expressions and explain how they are equal? or Do we choose the two we want them to compare? Do we have the dot image printed at the top of the page for them to use in their entry?

So much to think about..


3rd Grade Dot Image Number Talk

Since the 3rd graders are entering their multiplication unit, I find it the perfect time for some dot images!! I used the image below as a quick image in which I ask them to think about how many dots they saw and how they saw them. Quick images are so great for pushing students to visualize the dots and move beyond counting by ones and twos. I flashed the image for about 3 seconds, gave students time to think, and then gave them one more quick look at the image to check and/or revise their thinking.

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They all saw 20, however the way they the 20 varied a lot and the conversation was amazing from there! Here is how our board ended up…


Recording is something that I am always working on, making truly representative of the students’ thinking. The first thinking was adding groups of four to get 16 and then the additional middle 4 to arrive at 20. The second was skip counting, so I asked the student to do that for me and how they knew to stop at 20. He said he knew it was 5 groups of 4 so he needed to stop after 5 fours. Then I wrote under that “5 groups of 4.” From there a student jumped on that and said that was the same as 5 x 4, because they were talking about that the day before in class.

Then, the thing I was hoping happened, happened. A student said she did 4 x 5 because that was easier. I wrote it down and, of course, ask if that is the same thing? We began on open discussion and they agreed it was the same answer but the picture is not the same. I asked how it changes and a student told me to move a dot to the middle of each of the outside fours to make fives. I drew the arrow and then one student said that is like division, 4 ÷ 4 because you are splitting that 4 between the 4 groups. I let that sit for those not ready for that yet.

The last strategy was counting by twos so I had him skip count for me and recorded that. I asked if we had an equation to match that thinking and got 10 x 2. At that point, I was ready for them to do some algebraic reasoning.

So I wrote 5 x 4 = 10 x 2 and asked them if that was true or false. They unanimously agreed yes so I asked them how they could prove that and to write what they noticed and/or wondered about it. Here are their whiteboard work:

This one showed the 5×4=4×5 to me but I loved the notice so much:


This one was an interesting decomposition of the 4 to show where the two tens are coming from in 2 x 10:


This was a beautiful notice and wonder on the groups changing and wondering if this is with every multiplication problem….how AWESOME?!:


This one required a conversation because I couldn’t really understand it. The movement of dots made two groups of five to make the ten they said, but it was more their noticing/wondering that I want to explore more with them: 


Oh my goodness, how much do I love this mention of al(l)gebra in here and then the notice about the half of 10 is 5 and 2 is half of 4…this could have some potential conjecture-making in future talks:


This one is incredibly hard to understand and I am not even sure I completely do, but I love how she used one image to “make” the other: 


This student started with decomposing the four (I know we need to think about that equal sign later) but then moved to talking about ten frames. He said if I put two ten frames on top of one another (one attached under the other) I can see five fours (vertically). Then he said he drew them side by side and he saw 2 tens. HOLY COW! 


What an amazing conversation with this group! Today I posed them with a few of these noticings and wonderings and asked them to pick one and see if it always worked and why. I didn’t have time to snap pics of their journals but all I can say is 3.5 x 10 came up…so I will have to blog that this weekend!

All of this K-5 work is so exciting and it is so amazing to hear and see all of the great teaching and learning going on around the building!


My Week In The 2nd & 3rd Grade Math Classroom

While I am loving my new role as the school math specialist, I am definitely finding that my blogging has taken a bit of a slide. I have come to realize that my main inspirations for blogging is having a class every day in which I am thinking things through with and the student work that is the result. Working in various classrooms around the building does not offer that consistent look at student work, but I am SO excited to see so many teachers in my building using student math journals! I think they are finally starting to get used to me snapping pics of all of that great student work at the end of class!

This week, I had the chance to plan and teach with second and fifth grade teachers and do number talks in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms! Ahhhh…finally student talk and work that gets me excited to learn and inspires me to blog!:)

Second Grade:

Our second grade begins the year with Unit 3 of Investigations which centers around addition, subtraction and the number system. What the teachers and I realized, during the lesson we planned, was that, while the students did an amazing job adding and were finished fairly quickly, they all used primarily one strategy and if they did use a second one, they did see it as different.

The majority of the students decomposed both numbers and combined the tens and ones like the top two strategies of this student:

IMG_0743When asked to show another way, he quickly did the third strategy. Walking around the room, the teacher and I saw many others thinking in the same way as the third strategy but intricately different.

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IMG_0746Thinking in terms of the 5 Practices, we monitored and selected a progression of papers to elicit connections between strategies, however what we found is that as students shared, the others were saying, “I did it the same way, I just broke it apart.” They didn’t see a difference in breaking both numbers or breaking one number or then how they thought about the decomposition and combining of the partial sums. We left class with that spinning in our heads….”It is wonderful they can use a strategy to add, but how do we get them to see the differences in each and think about when one may be more efficient than another?” and for me, being new to second grade math, “How important is it that they do? and Why?” The following class period, which I could not be there due to a meeting, the teacher began creating an anchor chart of strategies as students discussed them and pushed them to see the similarities and differences of each. I am still thinking through the importance of these connections and realizing I have so much to learn!!

3rd Grade

In third grade this week, I was asked by a teacher if to come and do an addition number talk with her class. That took no thought, of course I jumped at the chance to chat math with them! I realized both before and after how much easier it was for me to plan for my 5th graders because I knew them and, due to experience, could anticipate fairly well what they would do with problems. I chose a string of addition problems that, while open to any strategies, encouraged the use of friendly numbers. I forget the exact string now, but something like 39 + 43 and 53 + 38. After being in second grade a few days before, it was interesting to see the same decomposition of both numbers to tens and ones and recombining of them. I am beginning to think that is the easiest, most instinctual way for them to do problems because they CAN do it other ways, they just jump right to that first! We did three problems together, and while the use of friendly numbers did emerge, it was definitely not the instinctual choice of the class. I left them with one problem to do “as many ways as they could in their journal (WOOHOO, they have math journals). I went back later to have them explain some of their strategies and take a look at their work.

I was excited to see that while many started with tens/ones, they had a wide variety of thinking around the problem:


Of course there are always a couple that leave you thinking….

In his verbal explanation, this one said he, “Multiplied 35 times 2 because he knew that 30 and 30 made 60 and the two 5’s made 10 so that was 70. Then he added the 14 to get 84.” When he first started talking, I had no idea where he was going and was honestly prepared to hear an incorrect answer at the end. I asked him to write out his thinking and he gave me this great response:


I know we need to be aware of his use the equal sign and make that a point in future number talks, but that thinking is soo interesting. He saw he had two 35’s, one of which within the 49 and then 14 leftover once he used it in his multiplication. Great stuff!

This one I need to hear more about from the student. He said he subtracted from 100 on a number line to end at 84. I asked him why he subtracted and he said he knew he needed to get from 100 to 84. I was confused but in the midst of the class, I didn’t think it was the time to go deeper with this one. I can’t tell if it is connections to things they are working on in class with 100 or something else?IMG_0762

I still have to blog about the 4th and 5th grade fun, but this is getting long already! I will save that for tomorrow!


Making Number Talks Matter – Book Study!

I honestly cannot talk about the teaching and learning in my classroom, or across our school, without highlighting Number Talks. I cannot recall the very first time I started Number Talks, but now I cannot imagine my math class without them. My Number Talk journey began with Sherry Parrish’s book and had continued to grow through reading Cathy Humphreys’ and Ruth Parker’s most recent book, Making Number Talks Matter. I implement Number Talks on a regular basis, reflect through writing blog post after blog post and have presented at both NCSM and NCTM around Number Talks. I simply cannot say enough wonderful things about them!

For this reason, it was not surprising when I had the opportunity to meet my fellow Teaching Channel Laureates this summer, that Crystal (@themathdancer) and I struck up an immediate conversation about Number Talks when we began chatting instruction. As an elementary school teacher, I often have middle and high school teachers ask what Number Talks could look like in the secondary classrooms. Would the setting be the same? What would example problems or strings look like? How does the content focus change? How do we get students at that age to engage in these mathematical conversations?…etc. So many questions that I still am trying to wrap my head around.

Fortunately for me, Crystal is a middle school teacher using Number Talks, so our conversations gave me great insight as to how they look and feel in the middle school. We talked extensively about the Number Talk course she had taken with Ruth Parker and shared students’ conversations during Number Talks in our classrooms. It was so exciting to see the connections between our students’ experiences and the path Number Talks can take after my students leave me and enter the middle school.  While I would love the opportunity to plan and observe Crystal’s classroom, and her to visit mine, she lives in Washington state while am on the east coast in Delaware, so our opportunity to collaborate face to face is not a reality.

Enter the wonderful world of technology, amazing resources available through The Teaching Channel, incredible teachers around the world wanting to learn and grow every day, and Ruth and Cathy’s new book Making Number Talks Matter!  Now, Crystal and I do not have to be on this amazing journey alone, but instead we have the opportunity to create an experience in which other educators everywhere can join us!

Together, we have planned and structured a book study unlike any other! Flexible to fit your needs, full of valuable resources, and completely FREE!

Beginning October 5th, each week will be dedicated to one chapter of the book. Conversations will happen on Twitter and Facebook, videos will be posted in our Teaching Channel Teams group, and we will even have a guest appearance by Ruth Parker herself! It is guaranteed to be an amazing learning experience that can only get better with your participation!  

For more information and to register for the book study, follow the links below:

We look forward to learning with you and Getting Better Together!

Check out Crystal’s Number Talks journey here!


Number Talks vs Number Strings


When I first saw this image, I have to admit, it didn’t match what I had been calling a Number Talk in my classroom. Having started my journey with Number Talks with Parrish’s book, I saw it as a string of problems with a specific strategy as the focus of the string that got progressively more difficult (which sounds more like a string in reading this slide). As I started creating my own and making variations to them over the past couple of years, I have simply started calling them Math Routines….it was just easier than trying to make things fit into a certain framework in my brain. After going back and forth about terminology, I started looking at these structures more in the sense of purpose than the name and I am finding it very interesting. Please keep in mind as you read, this is completely from my experience with Math Routines in the classroom and I find all of these talks so incredibly valuable!

First comparison: Single problem vs string of problems. In my experience, I think these two designs have a substantial difference in purpose. When I give one problem, I am going for one of two things: a variety of strategies to see where students are in their thinking OR connections/comparisons of multiple strategies. Personally, I like the variety of strategies before and after we have investigated different ideas that could impact their thinking. For both the students and myself, it shows growth and I can use what I find to help me in planning future routines. Connecting and comparing takes a bit longer and, for me, I don’t get as many strategies out because we focus on connecting and comparing only a few for time’s sake.

Second comparison: Difference in having a representation and context. I don’t give a representation or context unless a student brings one up in a explanation. If it comes from them, I go with it, if it doesn’t, I don’t write it up there. If there is a specific representation I am hoping comes up because we have been doing work with it during our math class, but doesn’t, I do have them do a quick journal response. I will ask them something such as, “How was our number talk similar to or different from our work in math class this week?” Then I can read their journals and have some students share the next day about the representation connection they made. I also have had students create contexts after we finish a number talk with a prompt such as, “Write a context that you think fits one of the problems in the string. How does the context change for another problem in the string?” For example if the string has “16 x 4” followed by “16 x 8” I am hoping to see connections between the two problems in the context.

Nothing to compare in the final piece, multiple strategies discussed in both!

In the end, students are talking math with a mathematical purpose so they are win/wins in my book, but I am curious to hear what others think around the purposes of different formats of these routines! Would love to hear other ideas so comment away!


Flexibility, Efficiency or Starting From Scratch?

I ask myself this question numerous times during the course of school week. During number talks and in class conversations, the students show such amazing thinking and strategies in solving various computation problems. But, just when I think they are constantly thinking about the numbers, their values and sense-making, they seem to start a new problem from scratch without connecting to any of their prior reasonings. Is it flexibility in their thinking, efficiency or seeing each problem as a new one? I was SO glad to see I am not alone when I read Tracy’s tweets yesterday….


The conversation was an interesting one that then seemed to moved into number choice and thinking about what the students were thinking and what we do as teachers from here. We all definitely had a lot more questions than answers, which is always fun to explore!

t4t5So, of course I had to test out some of our questions into my number talk today. I had the students do the number talk from their seats so they had their journals readily available. I gave them 36 x 7, asked them to solve mentally and really think about the strategy they were using. I took answers, they all got 252, and I asked them to jot down how they solved it. We shared out and the majority had solved it just as Tracy had mentioned in her tweet, (30×7) + (6 x 7). Then I gave them 36 x 25 to see if, when given a 2-digt x 2-digit, they changed their thinking. I was also interested in the influence of the number choice of 25.

I don’t think it was the two-digit  times 2-digit number that changed their approaches, but more so the influence of the 25.  A lot went to double/halving because they could get to 50 and 100 and others used the 100 made of four 25s. One student multiplied 40x 25 and subtracted 100 while a few others used the associative property that Tracy had mentioned (4×25) x 9.

The final problem was 39 x 25. Unlike a typical number talk in which I push students to connect to previous responses in route to an answer, I instead asked them to not solve it, but just think about how they would solve the problem. After they had their thumbs up with a strategy, I asked them to complete one of the following prompts: “I used the same strategy I had used before because….” or “I used a different strategy in this problem because…” Here are some of their responses…






My conclusion is: the more students talk about their strategies, reasonings, and choices, the more they think about the numbers and what “makes sense” in the solution pathway. I think some students definitely get into a comfort zone with a strategy that works for them, and that is ok with me, but I definitely want to expose them to other ideas and things to think about. I loved that 25 and 39 influenced their thinking about the way to approach the problems.

I am not sure this answers any questions in our Twitter conversations, but I am always SO incredibly curious to see what the students actually do after anticipating their thoughts. The even better part is, they love sharing what they were thinking without the worry of being wrong. I even had one student who said she changed her strategy for the last problem because she got the one before it wrong after solving it twice. In her words, “It definitely was not working.” 🙂

Hope this gives you something to think about Tracy, Christopher, Sadie, Simon and Kassia!


Isn’t Math Really Just How You Look At It?

Over the past year and a half, I have attended numerous CCSS trainings, read the standards and examined the CCSS learning trajectories. It is evident there is an emphasis placed on understanding of the properties of operations in the elementary grades. I don’t know about anyone else, but I remember it being taught to me as a lesson: Commutative Property is a+b=b+a… and such. No meaning behind it, simply some symbols, that if you could memorize and recite each, you were considered successful (as far as grades were concerned) in math class.

Fast forward to my second year as a K-5 math specialist. Having taught nothing below 5th grade in my previous 15 years in education, I am slowly wrapping my head around the depth of conceptual knowledge in grades K-1.  I always knew K-1 was very “hands-on” but I have to admit, I really did not understand the complexity and beauty in the way kindergarteners “see” math until this year.

The other day I did a number talk with a class of kindergarten students. I displayed various dot images with anywhere from  5-10 dots arranged in different patterns. My goal was to have students subitizing the dot patterns and writing addition equations to match the groupings.

I flashed the first dot image on the smartboard for @ 2 seconds and the students wrote the number of dots they saw on their dry erase board. Students shared their answer with a partner and showed me their boards. I put the image back up and asked how they saw (visualized) the dots.  We talked about different groupings, circled the dots for each, and practiced writing a couple equations together.

Feeling confident about the goals i had set for the number talk, i began to rethink them a bit after the following image:


Students quickly shared the answer of seven and then I asked, “How did you see the dots?”

The first student said,”I saw 2, 1 ,1,1, 2.” I had him circle the dots the way he saw them on the SMARTBoard and asked the students to write an equation for that grouping. Many successfully wrote a version (with some backwards 2s) of 2 + 1 +1+ 2+1=7. As I was looking around, I noticed one little girl had written all of the possible ways to arrange the 2s and 1s in the equation on her dry erase board. I realized at that moment, THIS is the commutative property in action! We shared all of the equations and I wrote them on the Smartboard.  I posed the wondering to the class: How can these equations look different but still have the same answer? They talked to their neighbor and the common response was because no dots left the picture…not exactly what I was looking for, but good answer.  I thought maybe it was too many numbers in the equation to see the commutative property or i just asked the question wrong, so i continued.

I asked for another way they saw it. Tons of thumbs went up (this is our sign for having a strategy) and the next student came to the board and circled 5 and 2. She knew it was a five, she explained because of a dice and she just knew two (there was the subitizing i wanted, but at this point we were going deeper). I asked students to write an equation for that grouping. They shared with their partner and we recorded 2+5=7 and 5+2=7. I was excited because two students had already written both equations on their boards before the share out. Now I posed the same type of question, worded differently, “What do you notice about the two equations we just wrote?”

I got responses like:
“The have the same numbers”
“Seven is at the end”
“Seven is the answer”
“He took my eraser” (all a part of the kindergarten learning curve)
“5,2,7 are there, mixed up”
I went with that  comment and pressed further… “So how can the 5 and 2 be mixed up and still have the same answer?”

After a  minute or two, one little girl said, “It’s just how you look at it. From that way (she pointed left) it is 2 then 5. If you look that way (she pointed right) it is 5 then 2.”

So there you have it teachers…the commutative property is “just the way you look at it.” Simple and beautiful.