Number Sense Routines: A Book Review

March 10, 2012 at 5:25 am Leave a comment

I previously wrote about a workshop I facilitated for teachers regarding building number sense, otherwise known as numerical literacy, or numeracy. This is such an exciting topic for me because I didn’t develop my number sense as a young student, therefore struggles were abundant.  In my own professional development, I came across a book titled, Number Sense Routines by Jessica F. Shumway. I purchased the book at the end of the school year last spring, and tucked it away on my shelf to read when I could find time.  I made the time in early January to read this book, and I am so glad I did!  In true mathematician fashion, the author blends research based best practices with practical classroom application.  When I began reading the book, I kept in mind my essential question, “What is number sense?”  I think too often as teachers, we throw these terms around when referring to why students can’t learn, but we never stop to ask what it is, and what it looks like.  I used to be one of those teachers that was under the impression that if students could only learn their basic facts, then everything else would come.  Then I started to dig deeper and ask “Why?” when observing students struggle with their basic facts. Why is this student using their fingers? Why is this student drawing a picture for a basic fact? Why is this student putting the larger number after the smaller number? Why does this student have to recount the object starting at 1?  All of these questions were answered while reading this wonderful book, that truly was an easy read!  There is actually a progression of number sense development and how children make sense of numbers just as there is a progression of understanding how letters and words work in reading.  Imagine that!  Mathematics isn’t so foreign after all!!!

In the book, Ms. Shumway addresses the progression of numeracy development and then she introduces and explains how to foster that development in children through the use of simple, yet powerful routines.  We know that routines are good for children, they help students practice and build on what they know, so why wouldn’t we use them to build fluency with numbers?  But, these routines are NOT the traditional flashcards, rote memorization of facts, or timed test that really don’t help students build number sense.  These routines help children  count, use one-to-one correspondence, subitize, unitize, look at part-whole relationships, understand the magnitude of numbers, and compensate with numbers.  I’ll let you investigate further what all of these mean, just as I did in my workshop, but psst… it’s in her book!

A few years back I was introduced to using ten frames, and I really liked the idea… I even tried to get some teachers to try using them for various lessons.  Ten Frames routines are in the book!  Earlier this year I was introduced to a tool called the Rekenrek.  Another tool Jessica describes and shows teachers how it can be a quick routine to build number sense.  The  most basic routine that I found to be the easiest for many of the teachers I coach to implement the very next day is Number Talks.  (There’s a new book on this too!) As research tells us, students have to communicate about math, and they need to talk about math to  make sense of it.  The easiest way to get students started with this, even if you’re not comfortable with Math Talk yourself, is to ask students, “What’s your favorite number? Why?”  The responses and reasoning will clue you into what students truly understand about numbers.  And from there teachers can plan future number talks.

I made so many connections in my reading to the mathematical practices and processes, new common core state standards, and what my daily work involves it was hard not to share it with others.  Most importantly, all of the routines in the book:

  • provide daily number sense experiences
  • include discussion about numbers and their relationships
  • respond to students’ current understandings
  • build on students’ existing number sense
  • encourage students to play with numbers and enrich their mathematical thinking
  • help students make connections to big ideas in mathematics

It should be no surprise that the author, Jessica Shumway, also taught at Bailey’s Elementary School in Fairfax County, VA with Kassia Omohundro Wedekind the author of the book, Math Exchanges which I also highly recommend.

I’m excited and inspired by the personal testimonies two teachers have shared since being at my workshop and receiving a copy of the book.

“I have to share a story with you.  I was trying to get my students to explain why they subtracted….   FINALLY Isaac said, “well the words kind of give you clues.”. I was excited; however, I thought he was talking about another part of the problem.  He explained to me that “well she had 19 stamps, but she gave SOME away”. (he emphasized some and explained a little further.). I sure am glad I shut up and let him talk!”- first grade teacher

“Dear Kristen,

Oh my goodness!!  I am so very grateful that I was able to attend your workshop.  I began reading the book on the airplane Thursday and read more on the flight back Sunday. The timing could not have been more perfect!  Today in class, I started laying the foundations for Number Talks and am already overwhelmed with what I can see in my students!  I even took some of their math journals from today down to Susan  to show her.  I am pushing back my other plans for math right now and spending the next few weeks building in some good solid number sense routines.  If you are near our school any time and want to drop in, I would love to share with you.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!



Again, the greatest reward in my role as a coach, is to have teachers take a suggestion, try it in their own classroom, and then share their success with me, and celebrate the development of young mathematicians!

Now go out and get your hands on this book….Image


Entry filed under: Professional Reads, Reflections. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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Kristen Hahn

March 2012
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