Number Talks Book Club

This fall, we (the two intermediate math liaisons in my district) have been planning a book study for the book “Making Number Talks Matter” by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. Our 18 participants teach Grades 4-7 and come from 16 different schools across our district (our district has 31 elementary schools).  We will be meeting every second Tuesday until the beginning of December to work our way through the book.  We will be talking about number talks, strategies for mental math and doing some planning and practicing of the Number Talks routine. Participation in this book club is totally voluntary and we know how difficult it is as teachers to squeeze in after-school commitments and still have everything ready in the classroom – our book club meetings run from 3:30 – 4:30 and we have committed to getting everyone out of there on time.

Yesterday was our first meeting – we had a few people who had to miss the first meeting because of parent-teacher interviews and staff meetings, so I will do my best to recap our discussion and learning!

We had a few goals for our first meeting –

  • Understand why we do number talks
  • Identify the procedures and setup necessary to get Number Talks started
  • Discuss the underlying values that the routine of Number Talks is based on
  • Create a plan for doing a dot talk in the classroom before the next meeting

We first showed the teachers a clip from the DVD that comes with Sherry Parrish’s Number Talks book.  We asked the teachers to ignore the mathematical strategies (for now) and just to focus on the routine – what is the teacher doing? What are the students doing?  What logistics do you notice?  (View this YouTube video from 44:50 to 51:30 – this isn’t the exact same clip we watched, but close enough).

Afterwards, we asked each group of teachers to fill in a chart with their ideas from watching the video and from doing the pre-reading.  Here are the finished ideas:

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We then had teachers do a “gallery walk” to look at all the ideas.

Next, we had intended to pull up the new BC Curriculum website to show all the places that Number Talks fit in both the content elaborations and in the Curricular Competencies from Grades 4-7, but the website was down (*deep breath*), so we skipped this portion. We are planning to do a full workshop on our district’s next ProD day on Number Talks and the Curricular Competencies, so we will have a chance to dive into this further on that day (if you are from SD57 and reading this, you can register on PD Reg for this session!).

From here, we provided groups with some discussion questions from the chapters they read and gave them a few minutes to talk/discuss and plan:

  1. What strikes you as most useful/valuable/exciting about the Number Talks routine?
  2. What parts of the routine are of concern? What do you think will be most difficult for you as the teacher/facilitator?
  3. What norms and structures do you need to have in place to be successful with Number Talks?
  4. What Guiding Principles (from Chapter 3) resonate with you?
  5. Which ones make you feel uncomfortable/concerned?

We provided groups with a blank template to record some guiding principles/norms for Number Talks that they thought they might like to use in their classrooms.  There was so much good discussion during this portion of our meeting – I feel so lucky that I get to facilitate and work with groups of teachers on things like this – what a thoughtful group of people! During these conversations, teachers discussed the importance of “wait time” and how difficult that can be, they talked about the difficulties of facilitating if we ourselves are unsure about some of the strategies (hopefully we can clear some of these feelings up in future meetings), they talked about the importance of students listening to one another and how this routine can connect across many math content areas.

Finally, I did a demonstration “dot talk” so that teachers could see what a dot talk would look like in action.  I used the same dot pattern from the Chapter explanation and showed teachers briefly how I set up a number talk to get started.

For our next meeting in two weeks, we have asked teachers to try a dot talk (or several) in their classroom, and read Prelude to the Operations, Chapter 4 and Chapter 6 – we are going to dive into addition and subtraction number talks next.

Some resources:

These are the Guiding Principles that I use when I start Number Talks in a classroom – they are adapted from Making Number Talks Matter.

Here is a planning page that Dorianna and I made for a workshop we did last year on Number Talks (also adapted from Making Number Talks Matter).

I borrowed and adapted several ideas for this session from this blog – I am so thankful for teachers who share their ideas and work so graciously online!

This is a great summary of Number Talks if anyone is looking for more information.

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Reading, reading and more reading

I had good intentions to blog this summer, but rest and family time ended up taking priority.  It’s October already!?!  So I am trying (again) to be committed to this blogging thing.

One thing I did manage to do this summer was some reading.  Professional reading is a bit of a wormhole.  One book leads to the next, which leads to the next and I always seem to have about 5 waiting for me to get to them.  This is what I managed to read this summer:

Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
This is the best productivity book I have ever encountered.  It is minimalism, but for your time instead of for your stuff.  I loved everything about this book, but a few things really resonated with me.

  1. It is impossible to do it all, so set some selective criteria that help to outline what you really want to accomplish and then STICK TO IT!
  2. Create a buffer by adding 50% to your estimate of how long it will take to accomplish things.  I am a chronic under-estimator of how much time things will take and often have to pull things together at the last minute.  I’m sure I would experience more EASE in my life if I consciously added in a buffer.
  3. Set aside professional time to think and read – this is really hard to do as a teacher – there are so many demands on our time.  But some of the most creative insights and solutions to problems come when I give my mind time and space to think.  I want to be intentional about adding this kind of time to my workweek this year.

The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
This book is related so closely to the shift our province is currently making in our curriculum – it is so much more important to teach our students HOW to think and learn rather than worrying about WHAT they are learning.  There is currently a MOOC going on as a book study with this book that I was trying to keep up with, but… I am about 2 weeks behind (see the comment about the buffer above).  Luckily, the Live chats are being archived, so I can follow at my own pace. (#IMMOOC if you are interested).

What’s Math Got to Do With It by Jo Boaler
I applied to read this book and write a review for the BC Association of Math Teachers book club series.  Jo Boaler’s books are so inspiring and her YouCubed website is full of great resources.  You can read my full review of the book here when it gets posted.

Classroom Chef by John Stevens and Matt Vaudry
I enjoyed the creativity of the lesson ideas and tips around crafting lessons.  I think many teachers feel anxious about straying too far from “predictable” in Math class and this book reminds us that there are rewards for doing so.  I actually (for the first time ever) thought it might be fun to teach a Grade 8 or 9 class.  Luckily, that feeling has passed quickly 🙂

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
I am a couple of years behind the bandwagon on this one, but I have had it signed out of the district library a few times and have never made time to get through it.  I am glad I finally read it – there are so many great ideas for making lessons interesting and motivating for students.  This book was a good reminder of why I became a teacher in the first place.  A very motivating read!

And… that brings me to the present…

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I need to learn how to take non-blurry pictures with my phone… if I wasn’t so lazy, I would re-take this one.

Recently, I have been very intrigued by the idea of thinking routines and instructional routines that support deep thinking.  Making Thinking Visible caught my eye on Amazon and after ordering it, I am seeing references to it everywhere – a good sign.

I started Mathematical Mindsets in the spring and got about halfway through it – I really wanted to read it slowly and carefully because there is so much to think about.  I am looking forward to digging back in this fall.  This is the book I am considering for my next teacher book club – depending on how successful our Number Talks book club is this fall (more on this next week!).

So, that’s my professional reading life over the last while… does anyone have any good suggestions for what to read next?