A few months ago, if you’d asked me what I was excited to teach, math or literacy, I would have said literacy without a beat. But it’s different now, with the life-changing math experience I’ve had in Allison’s class with Math Talk and focusing on developing conceptual understanding instead of teaching the standard algorithms and taking the “wonder and joy” out of math. I’ve written and said this before, but math held no “wonder and joy” for me, because I didn’t get it. But I was really good at plugging in those numbers into algorithms and getting the right answer, so no one questioned my understanding.

But now I’m seeing the value in questioning our students’ mathematical understanding. I actually got to do this on Friday, leading my kindergartners in a Math Talk involving ten-frames and the number 13: (2 consecutive frames go together)

In math, we’ve been working on understanding teen numbers as ten and some more. So I thought about it, and thought the ten frames would be really useful in helping the kids understand that concept while also engaging in conversation about their thinking. Overall, it went really well. My objective was that students would be able to think about that “Easy 10,” moving what ever needed number of dots so that they could make a ten, and then add the leftover dots on the next frame.

First, I established that we were going to work on talking about our math because it’s something smart mathematicians do, and it’s important that we listen to others’ ideas and share our own. Then I laid out the first ten frame filled to ten, and we established as a group that there was indeed ten. Then I added the ten frame with three dots and had a couple of students share how many they saw and how they saw it.

When I laid out the second set, the nine and the four, the second student to share (and in retrospect, I should’ve anticipated that he would be quick to do this) hit my objective, telling us that he moved one of the dots from the four to the nine, making ten, and then he knew there were thirteen altogether. Since this was my focus, I asked two other students to repeat what he said. The first student who had shared had originally said fourteen, and so I spent some time trying to help him see how the second student had arrived at thirteen, since most everyone else agreed that there were thirteen.

I recorded the Math Talk, and later in the day watched it with my CT who had been away from the room at the time of the talk. It was interesting to watch and see what I’d missed because I was focused on other things, and I walked away knowing I need to do better at trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the carpet as well as the student who has the mic, so to speak. For example, in the video you can clearly see one of the students using his finger and pointing at the screen, counting all of the dots. I wish I had seen this so I could have acknowledged the students, who I’m sure were many, in the counting all stage.

Overall, I was so impressed by the way my kindergarteners were able to engage in Math Talk, even respectfully and patiently. From this experience, I’m feeling more fearless about teaching math and using Math Talk.