Number Sense and Number Talks

By: Asha Dalton

Please watch the VoiceThread Presentation as an introduction to my research

Background: Students Lack Number Sense

Every student I have the privilege of teaching comes to me from different backgrounds with varying strengths and weaknesses. The commonality I have found between all of my students is that there is an apparent lack of number sense. Not only does this apply to my students, research shows that “there is a concern among educators in schools with high levels of poverty that students are lacking certain academic strategies, especially in mathematics” (Stella & Fleming, p. 2).

What is Number Sense?

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) explain that children with good number sense:

  1. have well-understood number meanings
  2. have developed multiple relationships among numbers
  3. recognize the relative magnitudes of numbers
  4. know the relative effect of operating on numbers (NCTM, p. 37)


  • Twenty-one 4th grade students
  • 12 boys and 9 girls
  • 13 Hispanic students
  • 6 Caucasian students
  • 1 Asian student
  • 1 African American student

Out of my 21 students, 16 students are identified as economically disadvantaged. There are 13 students who receive ESOL services. In addition, 16 of the students receive Title I support in math on a daily basis.

Research Question

Will Number Talks have an impact on computational fluency when they are done on a regular basis with my students?

Data Collection Process

During the first week of the data collection process I administered the pre-assessment to all of my students. Through this assessment I was able to gather a baseline which was used to show growth. During number talks I conducted informal observations of my students and listened to their discourse and checked to see which strategies they were utilizing. Additionally, I took anecdotal notes during small groups to see if students were utilizing number talk strategies in their everyday work. Once the data collection window closed, I re-assessed each student in my class. I compared their pre-assessment scores to their post-assessment scores within each domain.

My research was focused on 3 different domains: addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, ratio and proportion.

Based on the students’ pre-assessment scores compared to their post-assessment scores, I had 3 students who did not show growth in the global stage.

Through this study I feel that daily number talks were beneficial and aided in improving my students’ number sense and computational fluency skills.


According to research on number sense, number sense is the single greatest and most powerful predictor of a student’s success in higher math. Therefore, there is an evident need to ensure that all students leave elementary school with a strong foundation and understanding of number relationships. This prompted the current study to determine if the implementation of daily Number Talks would improve and promote number sense and computational fluency which indicates, from the data collected, that Number Talks do have a positive impact on students’ number sense and computational fluency.

This conclusion is supported by the increase of students’ overall global stage derived from the GloSS assessment. Not only did the students’ increase their global stage score, I noted that their use of appropriate math vocabulary and discourse improved as well. Their interactions with their peers are more meaningful and engaging. Students are able to talk to one another and discuss their thought process explaining why they solved an equation they way they did. They are able to justify their thinking, which is an indicator of number sense. This observation is likely due to the daily routine during Number Talks. Students were provided with time to discuss their thought process with their peers. They were encouraged to go beyond just explaining their method. Prior to this intervention, students were weary to volunteer their answers with the fear of being incorrect. Now, students will readily volunteer an incorrect answer and back it up with an explanation of why they were incorrect and how they can correctly solve the problem.

As a conclusion, Number Talks did have a positive impact on students’ number sense and computational fluency. All of my students’ Global Stage Score increased with the exception of three students. These three students are all in the process of being tested for Special Education services. Although their overall Global Stage Score did not improve, I did see improvements in their vocabulary, discourse, and willingness to utilize a strategy to solve equations during Number Talks.

Future Actions

Moving forward, given the findings from this study, it is apparent that a student’s number sense is directly tied to their understanding of number concepts and relationships and estimation strategies. Therefore, an action plan for the future was developed. The chart takes into account any changes to be made in order to improve the study, data collection process, and timeline. With that said I feel that the benefits of daily Number Talks were significant and warrant becoming an everyday routine. This is something that will be adopted moving forward. Number Talks will become a part of my daily math routine.