Why Math Talks?

Math talks are a great way to engage kids in conversations about math.

They are as simple as talking to kids about math…so, what’s the big deal? Why are math talks all the rage right now in the primary classroom?

Bang For Your Buck

Maybe it’s just me, but, YA’LL!!  I’m stretched thin for time with my firsties.  And it keeps getting thinner every year it seems!  Math Talks are quick.  10 minutes or so in my first grade classroom.  Yet, when I do a math talk, I am addressing at least 5 of the 8 Standards for Math Practices.   Depending on the content for my math talk, I can easily hit 3-5 Common Core Math Standards in that 10 minutes as well.

With the precious little time I have with my little math minds, I want to be sure I’m getting the biggest bang for my buck.  Math Talks are perfect to squeeze in and make me feel like I’m spending my time wisely with meaningful content.

Enhance Your Math Block

Math Talks can be used in SO many ways to enhance my math block.

I’ve used them as a model lesson at the beginning of math workshop when we are doing partner math games as a way to give some content background before practicing a skill during game time.

I’ve modified our CGI share time and done a math talk instead.  When I do this, I take a story problem equation from that day and use it tov do a math talk.  That way, I’m practicing the math within context (during story problem time) and outside of context using the equation only during our math talk.  This works really well when students have struggled with a new story problem type.

I’ve even used Math Talks as my entire math block by extending the length of it.  I don’t recommend this all the time, but for math talks about shapes, measurement, or data/graphs, longer math talks can be really, really beneficial!

Fluency, Fluency, Fluency

Math Talks build confidence in my first graders.  And building confidence leads to fluency.  They are able to connect with and see other friends who think like they do.  And the power of adding kids’ names to their strategy is a miracle worker!  6 year olds will do anything to be able to see their name on the board and “own” a strategy!

Besides the confidence boost, seeing strategies that are lower level strategies help build fluency in my on and above grade level math minds.  The more I have to explain something, the better I get at it.  So, the more I see a particular strategy, the faster I get at solving it.

Modeling Math Notation

Math Notation is simply writing equations to match a story problem or kids’ thinking.

Which means that notation is the math version of spelling.  In writers’ workshop, we ask kids to get an idea in their head, and then write what they say out loud.

If I can say it, I can write it.

If I’ve said that once in the last 11 years, I’ve said it 1,000 times!  Math notation is no different than spelling new words.  Whatever my math thinking is, I spell out as notation…in the same order I say it so that it matches my thinking.

Math Talks give kids the opportunity to say their strategy OUT LOUD for all of us to hear.  And that gives me, as the teacher, the perfect opportunity to record math notation to match their thinking.  Doing this out loud helps us model this process for kids so that when they are solving story problems independently, they can work through this same process on their own.  Just like practicing sounding out words as a class helps students spell more fluently on their own.  And, like spelling, kids’ math notation isn’t always perfect when they do it independently.  Math Talks give me the opportunity to model correct notation for my little math minds!

You can watch me model this ten frame math talk and how to notate kids’ thinking here!

Beef Up the Math Toolbox

As we say down here in Arkansas….there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  My preschooler is learning this big time right now–just not about math.  One of his morning chores is to make his bed.  And, depending on how he slept the night before, it can be a bit of a problem to get his sheets and quilt straight.  Right now, we are stuck in the “I can’t do it!” phase.  You know, the one where he tries it the way he usually does it and it doesn’t work???  Of course, momma doesn’t accept that answer.  My answer is simply, “What else can you do?”

The same is true in math.  Sometimes, kids {and adults!} get in a rut of solving a problem the same way.  And then we are in for a rude awakening when our one strategy we’ve been using doesn’t work for a math problem.  So, the question is, “What else can you do?”

Math Talks give kids the what else.  They add more tools to their math toolbox.  Then, when they are solving problems independently, they have more strategies to pull from to help solve their problem.  In math, we call this flexible thinking.  Flexible thinking starts off with just trying out new strategies.  And the better we get at being a flexible thinker, the more efficient we get at choosing a specific strategy to solve a specific problem for a specific reason.

How Did You Get Your Answer?

I ask this question so many times during a math talk I think I say it in my sleep now.  A good math talk is all about less is more.  In 10 minutes, I could solve several math equations in a workbook and basically just be a living robot.  But in a 10 minute math talk, I solve 1 or 2 math problems and spend more time talking about the how.

How did you get your answer?
Why did you choose that strategy?
How is this strategy different than yours?

Math Practice #3 says I can construct a viable argument and critique others.  Seriously, they should just add Math Talk at the end of that one!  Because that pretty much lays out the heart of Math Talks! So, why do I want to have kids tell me how?  Research shows that kids who spend more time on fewer problems and are asked to explain their thinking outperform their more traditionally taught peers (Adding it Up).  And it’s not just a research theory.  I’ve seen this in my classroom.  Think about your kids.  The kids that can teach someone else how to do something are our top performing students.  So, why not include a routine that builds that culture in our classroom?

Real World Experience

Let’s face it, Math Talks are a model for the real world.  As an adult, I’m constantly presented with a problem to solve and I have to come up with a solution for it.  Then, I have to defend my solution {to my boss, my husband, my principal, or maybe even just myself!}  And if my solution doesn’t work, I have to have a big enough toolbox of strategies and solutions to find something else I can try.

That’s real life.  And that’s Math Talks.  Talking about math in our classroom is one of the best ways we can learn academics and prepare our kids for the real world all in one!

Watch these videos to learn more about math talks, including watching model lessons on dot images, ten frames, shapes and more!.  And find my math talks here:

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