Saturday, February 3, 2018

Digit Detectives: Student-Created Number Talks

“Since the heart of number talks is classroom conversation, it is appropriate for the teacher to move into the role of the facilitator.”
- Sherry Parrish

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Before reading this piece, I strongly suggest you read my original number talk piece here. After reading it, come back here to read about the next level. 

A critical part of our daily math routine is beginning with a number talk. As a brief recap, they're 10-15 minute experiences where students are presented with a math prompt and have to work out various solutions using only mental math. Most number talks can have more than one answer and follow similar formats. Various norms (such as hand signals) are established to ensure that the experience runs smoothly.

Leading the tape measure Estimation 180
One thing I am very passionate about is giving students ownership and control over their learning.

They already write the weekly newsletter, lead our daily morning meetings, and help develop flipped classroom videos. In reflecting on where I could turn over more control to my students, I realized they could run number talks.

Teacher's assistant (the student who basically acts as a miniature version of me) is a highly coveted classroom job in Room 31, and it felt like a natural place for passing off the task. Once other students saw the teacher's assistant running the show, they begged that person for a chance. I'm always impressed by how gracious the teacher's assistant is in allowing others to have a chance.

The number talks all follow certain patterns and routines, based on the specific type (see the original blog post for an explanation of the types). One type that I didn't explain in the original post was Estimation 180. This is a fantastic website where various pictures are shown and students must make estimations based on other information in the picture or previous days' information. For example, a student recently led a five-day long continuous number talk about tape measures, in which a new, larger tape measure was introduced every day and the students had to estimate the new measures length.

Before and after students lead a number talk, I conference with them about what I'll be looking for while they lead. I want them to reinforce the norms and to push student on their thinking, which often times can be as simple as asking, "Why do you think that?" I encourage them to model it as if I were given the number talk.

A physical plan before
I converted it digitally
Generally speaking, I open up that day's number talk from this Google Slidedeck (feel free to make a copy of it) and turn it over to the student. As I do while I'm leading a number talk, I stay out of it and let them run the show. On occasion, I will put my thumb up (indicating I have an answer I'd like to share). Sometimes I will give a "correct" answer and model my thought process, and other times I will purposely give a wrong answer and see if other students catch it and use the disagreement signal (raising their hand). Spoiler - they usually do and love saying, "I disagree with Mr. B!"

While allowing students to lead number talks are great, they're still basically regurgitating information I'm giving them. I want them to be creators and true leaders of their learning.

I decided to ask the teacher's assistant for the month of January to start developing some of her own number talks, based on the "Mystery Number" and "Balance the Scale" format (again, see the original post for in-depth explanations).

Full disclosure - this girl is literally the shyest girl I have ever had in my entire teaching career. Asking her to lead number talks was one thing, but creating one was a whole new ball game. Nevertheless, she stepped up and developed both in a matter of minutes. Since I store all of my number talks on Google Slides, she wrote it on paper and I quickly converted it to digital.

She absolutely rocked it. I really wish I filmed it, because she did a great job. Her first talk was based on balancing the scale for the value of 12. In addition to her choosing an ideal number (since 12 can be created so many different ways depending on the operations used), I was absolutely floored by the responses of her classmates. We have been working on polygons, and one student said, "hexagon plus hexagon." This opened up further polygon-based discussion, which brought a single tear to my eye.

 Leading his own "Mystery Number."
Immediately, former teacher's assistants asked if they could retroactively make some. Of course, I wasn't going to turn them down! The following day, a student created and led another "Balance the Scale," while another did a "Mystery Number" later in the week.

If you're planning on trying this with your students, I definitely recommend beginning with the two formats I began with (Balance the Scale and Mystery Number), in addition to "Which One Doesn't Belong." These seem to be the three easiest to develop and lead to rich discussion.

In the future, it would also be cool for students to begin developing some talks in the Estimation 180 set up. This would take a bit of prep work ahead of time, as this would require students to take pictures at home and send them to me. Who knows - this may be on the docket for my February teacher's assistant!

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