Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom (Part 1)

elevateMental math plays a huge role in the Singapore Math curriculum.  By developing mental math strategies in your students, you are equipping them with strong number sense, a critical skill and goal for our students to reach by the end of middle school.

You can practice mental math in your classrooms with a Number Talk; a term coined by Sherry Parrish in her popular book, Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies.

Establishing Rules and Roles for a Number Talk

For Number Talks to be successful, you have to establish some rules for respectful listening and productive criticism.  All students need to feel safe to participate without feeling ridiculed.

Enlisting student help when generating rules allows students to take ownership of them and creates a classroom where the rules are more likely to be followed.

To generate rules for Number Talks you might ask:

What does it look and sound like when someone is being a good listener?

It’s equally important to teach students how to respond to each other in a respectful manner.  In a recent post on Edutopia, Oracy in the Classroom, types of talk were artfully organized into 6 discussion roles.
stw-school21-typesoftalk

During a Number Talk, students become the Builders, Challengers and Clarifiers, while the teacher plays the roles of the Instigator, Prober, and Summariser as he or she guides the discussion as the facilitator of the Number Talk.

What should we talk about?

In Kindergarten, Number Talks can focus on subitizing and connecting the pictorial to the abstract.

Thoughtful problems are used in grades 1 through 5, designed specifically to practice mental math strategies that have been introduced in class.

In Kindergarten, show an image like this and ask, “How many dots do you see?”

screenshot-61

In first grade, show an image like this.

screenshot-62

Or a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

18 + 5 =

In second grade, start with a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

57 + 14 =

Or this, to practice adding a number close to 100.

97 + 33

Or this, to practice subtraction strategies.

43 – 28 =

In third grade, start with this to practice mental math with multiplication.

14 x 3 =

Or this to practice mental division.

42 ÷ 3 =

In fourth grade, start with problems like these to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

499 + 137 =

138 – 56 =

In fifth grade, start with problems like these to continue to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

1388 + 2983 =

29 x 7 =

135 ÷ 5 =

Give some of these a try and check back soon for the next installment of Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom.

Look for Part 2 next Monday!
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Each month, we receive dozens of inquiries from teachers and schools seeking training to ensure that they are using the curriculum as effectively as possible. We are in the process of planning future educational programs for teachers and schools, and would love to know how we can help you!

If you are interested in learning more about Singapore Math or taking your current math teaching skills to a higher level, please take a few minutes to complete this survey.

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Great Math News from City Springs School In Baltimore

For the last year, I’ve been working with City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. Here’s a short description from the school’s website:

City Springs Elementary/Middle School is a neighborhood charter school operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP). We are a conversion charter school, which means we were an already existing Baltimore City Public School that was taken over by an outside operator to bring innovative and research-based curriculum and other programs to enhance the school. To learn more about BCP, click here.

City Springs logoInitially, the school was seeking help with its Middle School math. After I made a pair of on-site visits at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Dr. Rhonda Richetta, Principal of City Springs, decided to adopt Singapore’s Primary Mathematics Common Core Edition.

I’ve returned to City Springs periodically this year to provide continuing support as the school’s teachers and coaches adopted a Singapore Math® curriculum. The school is making remarkable progress, and I want to share stories written by some of City Springs’ dedicated teachers about the students’ growth during the year.

I’ve clipped an excerpt from each story with teachers’ observations and very valuable insights about the program and why it is working so well for their students. Please click on the links to read complete stories from the school’s website. I love the photos of students showing off their skills and having fun with math!

Ms. Schoenleber: Introducing Singapore Math  (November 2015) “Classroom manipulatives have helped our kids get better at problem solving and justifying their answers for tough math problems.”

Ms. Hagemann: It’s More than Just a Game (November 2015) “One way to get stronger in mental math is by use math-based games to reinforce basic concepts and encourage mathematical thinking…Students in Ms. Hageman’s class love mental math games!”

Ms. Smith: Moving Ahead in Mathh (February 2016) “Singapore Math has been very challenging but it has also been very rewarding, and they have especially loved the use of manipulatives in class.”

Ms. Barry: Stepping Up to the Ratio Challenge (February 2016) “Ratio problems can be really tricky. Sometimes these multi-step problems are so challenging that we spend 15, 30, or even 45 minutes on one problem! Our students love to rise to the challenge, and have grown so much in their math skills with these complex problems.”

Ms. Barry’s also class wanted to challenge readers to solve a ratio problem they worked on. How did you do?

Ms. Lineberry:  Introducing Fractions  (May 2016) “At first, we struggled to figure fractions out. Trying to wrap our minds around halves and fourths proved difficult at first. Things became a little clearer after we started using “manipulatives,” hands-on objects used to illustrate math concepts.”

Ms. Williams: Knowing All the Angles (May 2016) “Students began their geometrical journey by learning how to measure angles…Later, they will start learning to measure geometric angles made by two lines emanating out of the center of a circle, and eventually beginning exploring the complex world of geometry formulas.”

Working with City Springs has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable assignments of my career. Teachers have embraced the challenge of adopting a new program and students are making wonderful progress. I can’t wait to see their growth in Year Two! Thank You, City Springs!

[Full disclosure: My work assignment at City Springs is contracted through Staff Development for Educators.] Scridb filter

How can I fit it all in?

In 2015, Beth wrote about the Primary Mathematics adoption process at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. Here’s an update on the school’s progress.


stab_logoAs the year winds down and I look back at all that my students have learned this past year, I still feel panicked at what’s left to be covered.  This is the end of a 3-year adoption cycle of Primary Mathematics and while I’ve been able to cover more curriculum than in the previous 2 years, I am still left wondering, “How can I fit it all in?”

In the fall of 2013, we adopted the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Kindergarten through sixth grades.  We knew this would come with its challenges but felt strongly that if we were going to offer our students the “world’s best mathematics curriculum,” then we needed to offer it to all, not just those who made the K, 1, 2 cut.

With this plan, we knew there would be time spent filling in holes in our first year, teaching skills and concepts that the students were missing, and building a solid foundation in number sense and place value.  We accepted the fact that we would not cover all of the curriculum that first year, and worked with Cassy Turner to develop a sequence for each grade level that included teaching critical lessons from prior grade levels.

Year 2Beth with grade 4 student

In the second year, teachers were feeling a sense of relief.  We’d made it through that challenging first year.  We experienced the curriculum from start to finish, well – at least our version of it, and we felt confident.  We weren’t faced with the need to back-teach (as much). Our students entered the year having learned and retained a deeper understanding of those critical math concepts.

With Cassy’s advice, we created a new plan for our second year.  We knew the lessons that had been skipped the previous year and teachers worked together to map out a Kindergarten through sixth-grade sequence that allowed us to get further through the content, and more importantly, accounted for previously omitted lessons.  If we didn’t teach a lesson on geometry to our third graders our first year, we made sure those students would get those lessons in fourth grade our second year.

The year ended, and our standardized test scores showed slight increases in problem solving and algebra readiness, both areas of statistical concern with our previous curriculum.

Year 3

Entering year three, we felt confident in our abilities to deliver lessons.  Along with our students, our staff had developed a deeper, conceptual understanding of math.  We were able to effortlessly explain new concepts, differentiate on the fly, and anticipate misconceptions.  We incorporated anchor tasks, journaling and finally had a grasp on how to effectively use all of the materials.

We entered the year with the goal of teaching the entire curriculum.  Halfway through the year we were teaching material nearly a month ahead of our previous two years and felt really good about it.  Then came…

  • rehearsals for performances
  • grandparents’ day presentations
  • spring field trips…
  • field day…
  • and all sorts of other school commitments.

By April, we had just about lost the scheduling lead that we had enjoyed in December.

So, here I find myself once again faced with the task of choosing one lesson over another and prioritizing the importance of skills and concepts that I may or may not have the time to teach.  Fortunately, the list to choose from is smaller than in the years before. I’ve been able to cover almost all of the material, nearly reaching the goal.

I consider myself lucky to have been in a situation of specializing in math in the lower grades over the past 3 years.  I have been able to experience the strengths of the sequence, which in my mind, is one of the pillars of success of a Singapore Math curriculum.  Going forward, I know it will be easier to thoughtfully prioritize content to eliminate the risk of creating gaps or holes in student learning that could potentially weaken their foundation.

As I leave the school, I look forward to bringing this wealth of knowledge that I gained over the past 3 years to Math Champions and look forward to assisting other schools that are facing the question of, “How can I fit it all in?”

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Meet Beth Curran, Singapore Math® Trainer

In 2008, I left teaching in the classroom to champion Singapore Mathematics and expand its reach to elementary schools and children everywhere. Looking back on the past eight years, I am amazed by the incredible opportunities I’ve had to help schools and teachers make math from Singapore work for every child in every classroom.

graphDemand for my training and coaching services has grown every year; recently, it has become impossible to accommodate all the schools looking for help with their math instruction.

Expanding has been on my radar for several years, but I did not want growth to affect the quality of professional development services. To take this important step, I needed a candidate who has stellar credentials as a teacher/trainer/coach AND who shares my passion for elementary math.

I’m delighted to share some exciting news. After eight years as a one-person consultancy, I am hiring my first employee.

Introducing Beth Curran

Beth Curran Preschool – 6th Grade Math Department Chair, St. Anne’s-Belfield School Singapore Math Teacher and Trainer

In a 13-year career, Beth Curran has taught mathematics in Kindergarten through 4th Grade as both a classroom teacher and a Singapore Math® specialist. Beth is currently the Lead Math Teacher and Math Department Chair at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, an independent Pre-K-12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia. At St. Anne’s, she oversaw the successful adoption of Primary Mathematics, guiding a team of teachers and partnering with administrators and parents.

Beth wrote about the St. Anne’s implementation here.

What do Beth’s Colleagues say about her impact?

The transition for our faculty to Singapore Math was daunting at first.  The unknown can always challenge teachers and schools.  Yet, Beth, as a member of a team of newly-minted math specialists, provided key expertise and wise counsel to her colleagues.  The result was a palatable sense of relief as the new math vision was manifested daily by strong instruction.  She enabled our teachers and school to move confidently in this new direction.
– Fred Chandler, Associate Head of School for Academics, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

There is a depth to Beth Curran’s teaching, and–through her example and through many discussions–she has helped me deepen my own teaching.  She prioritizes true mastery of worthy concepts.
– Karen LeMaire, Kindergarten through 4th Grade Math Specialist, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

Beth has provided professional development and ongoing support services to other Virginia schools that have implemented Singapore Math curricula, as well as hosting several informational sessions to schools interested in the Singapore approach. In addition, she has presented at State and regional math educator conferences. Beth is a dedicated, award-winning teacher, presenter, mentor and advocate of making quality mathematics education accessible to all students.

Beth says, “I’m so excited to share all that I’ve learned on my own Singapore Math journey with educators throughout the country, and beyond.”

I’m thrilled that Beth will be joining me in June. Welcome to the team, Beth!

P.S. In addition to hiring Beth, I’ve also formed a new company, Math Champions Professional Development, LLC. More on that development coming soon.

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