Number Talks – An Unexpected Side Effect
We have all heard, “Mistakes are proof that you are trying”, “Mistakes are opportunities to learn”, “Mistakes are stepping stones of learning,” but rarely is this relevant to middle school students. My students in 8th grade think that if they make a mistake that they aren’t smart and that they are bad at math. This has been a year about teaching growth mindset and celebrating mistakes. We begin every week with a mindset Monday quote and we have the quote of “Mistakes are proof that you are trying” decal on the wall that we are continuously referencing and putting Post-its of our mistakes to celebrate them. We even have a song to celebrate the favorite mistake of the day! We use the song “Jump Around” as I am a huge Wisconsin Badger fan. It is a great brain break and a great way to celebrate mistakes. We usually celebrate the mistakes in our team work or during our review preview work time. We haven’t had many shared mistakes in our Number Talks.
To set the stage, the group of students that I have this year are a group of students that on a daily basis take the most energy and patience I have ever had for a group of students. This group of students has significant needs and experience rough situations at home. This year is the first year that we have our new pathways at our district. We deaccelerated our program. This means that 60% of our students are taking 8th grade math and not accelerated into our algebra program. This would be another conversation but the reason I am sharing is because the students in this class came in with a lack of confidence in math, hating math, and other major life events happening. Needless to say, it has been a trying year. But I can’t be anything but proud where these students are.
Number Talks are known for facilitating meaningful math discourse and having students share multiple strategies for their solutions. In my classroom, Number Talks have not been used to share mistakes, until this week! I had not anticipated the amount of solutions I would have from 145 x 8. I was blown away by the number of solutions. I had 8! I usually have many strategies but not necessarily solutions! The following Number Talk is one that I went on my soap box after we were done and shared how proud they should be of themselves and how far we have come. It was a great day.
My Number Talk:
At first, I asked for the solutions as I always do and they just kept coming. I thought, “Oh boy… this could get interesting and I only have 10 minutes!” I decided this was a teachable moment about estimation. I asked students to share how could we use estimation to help narrow down our results? They shared how to estimate! Then we talked about which ones we should start with first as we wouldn’t have time to get through all of the solutions. A student shared their strategy and it happened to be the correct solution. The best is what happened next! Students started raising their hands. I was like, whoa… this is cool. Many students after the first strategy is shared, I don’t have as many volunteers. I start calling on students, and what was shared surprised me.
Students shared their mistakes! They were able to identify all of their errors and celebrated how they can do it differently next time. Then more hands went up… and more mistakes. The coolest was the one that said, “Oh Mrs. Mastrocola, you’re going to jump around for this mistake!” My students have found courage and purpose in sharing their mistakes with the class. It is a beautiful thing!
Number Talks amaze me each and every day. Number Talks help make learning accessible for all learners and really ramp up the math talk in the class but I never expected the side effect of the confidence to share their mistakes with the class! Number Talks are a ten minute routine that I do three times a week and it has made a difference in the math talk and confidence of my students in math.
Remember… It isn’t that you make a mistake in math, it is what you do after you make that mistake that defines you as a math student.