Skip To Main Content

Engaging the Mathematical Conversations

by Fourth Grade Teacher Leann Kane

Students often engage in conversations about the books they are reading, the art they are creating, and the discoveries they are making in science, but how often do students engage in mathematical conversations? I asked myself this question while completing professional development this summer, and I made it my goal to incorporate more meaningful math conversions in our classroom through math talks. 

Math talks are short purposeful discussions about numbers designed to strengthen number sense, build vocabulary, and increase student engagement. Math talks encourage students to think about the relationships between numbers and see problem-solving in different ways. Often in math, there is only one solution to a problem, but engaging in math talks allows students to see that there are many approaches to every problem. Math talks allow students to share problem-solving strategies and make connections between numbers. Giving students the time and space to reflect on numbers builds number flexibility and increases students' comfort level with skills.

This year, we started small by looking at sets of numbers and asking simple questions. Students are asked to think about grouping that can be made, numbers that stand out, and vocabulary concepts that can be applied. Students gain confidence knowing there are many possible answers as long as they provide a reasonable explanation for their thinking. For example, students might be given the following set of numbers: 2, 8, 18, 36, and 43, and asked to share what they notice. At first, students pointed out things like 2 and 8 are single-digit numbers while 18, 36, and 43 are two-digit numbers. Eventually, they began to apply the concepts and vocabulary terms we were learning in class to explain their thinking and begin to notice place value, multiples, factors, fact families, and prime and composite numbers. Students are always excited when their observations or methods are similar to a friend’s, but they are even more excited when they share their unique findings. 

While not every math class begins with a math talk, students are always excited when they do. Engaging in these meaningful conversations sets a positive tone for the day’s lesson and encourages participation from all. Beyond whole-group math talks, these meaningful conversations have impacted the way students engage in mathematical discussion while working with a partner or in groups. They have learned how to approach their differences and productively discuss ways to problem-solve together.