I walked into a 5th grade classroom a couple weeks ago, ready to show a brand new teacher how to do a number talk. Little did I know, her kid’s would be helping me to learn that day!
I attempted to facilitate a multiplication number string (2 x 7, 4 x 7, 4 x 8) and noticed that a few students were successful, but most lacked either the vocabulary or the conceptual understanding to explain what was happening in the multiplication number string and why the facts were related. As I struggled through the number talk, I showed a visual relating the last two, I tried to ask the best math question I know, “What do you notice?” and I asked students to compare and contrast the problems and the pictures I had made, but still I did not see a lot of “Aha”s. I was crushed and wished that I hadn’t demonstrated such an unsuccessful number talk for this brand new teacher. As I left, I contemplated what I could do to make it better. I knew I couldn’t leave those students like that, and I knew it was important for the teacher to see how successful a number talk can be. I had spent the morning watching a colleague of mine, and listening to TKers and Kinders explain dot cards. Then I remembered this blog post about multiplication subitizing cards from Graham Fletcher, and it just seemed to click. I decided to do a number string with dot cards, and the lesson was inspiring!
I created the string found on this PowerPoint, utilizing the subitizing cards from Graham Fletcher and a PowerPoint I found 3 years ago, which I can no longer find to cite. (If you know where it comes from, please let me know so I can give proper credit).
This time, the number talk was exactly what we want. Kids were engaged, all students had access and were participating. Even those who struggled with language could use the visual of the dot cards to help them explain. I had students using the words “groups of” and truly explaining a conceptual understanding of multiplication as a number repeated multiple times. Some were using repeated addition, others were using the 1st fact (2×4) two times to solve 4×4. The best part was on the final card (7×4), they were using the distributive property and partial products to explain the number of dots on the card. They were using a previous dot card (5 x 4) to help them explain and it all gave a great opening to take it back to the number sentences. I saw an instant connection between what these 5th graders were doing to explain the visual patterns in the dot cards and what the Kinders did earlier in the week with dot cards. The quiet, unsure class transformed into a talkative class, asking for more. Thanks to those who inspired this lesson and continue to share what they know with the rest of us!