The Secrets of Developing Number Sense

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How do you feel about your own math skills? Most adults say they can do day-to-day math but they don’t like it, and some say they aren’t very competent at even that, frequently referring to the calculator on their smartphone for answers! What if you could give your students a stronger background in math than you had? This begins with building number sense skills. Check out my top secrets and tips for developing number sense!

*Grab our Number Centers and Activities for Pre-K & Kindergarten for tons of hands-on, easy-prep learning fun!

What is number sense and how do you develop it in students? Check out these important tips for developing numbers skills!

The Secrets of Developing Number Sense

Teaching math is an enormous task, and with the new changes in adopted state standards, the bar for teachers has risen even higher. That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math. Mathematicians indicate there are five primary disciplines of math, which are as follows:

  • number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
  • algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
  • geometry – the understanding of spatial relationships, prepositional terms, and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
  • measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
  • data analysis and probability – understanding data as a means of conveying organized information and understanding that certain variables affect data

Exclude one of those components and children may suffer in their math skills and experience unnecessary difficulty in learning math.

Developing number sense is just the first step to effective mathematics instruction. Following this will be more posts about the five disciplines of math and how teachers can be sure to include each within their math instruction.

What is Number Sense?

Number sense is fluidity and flexibility with numbers. It is a deep understanding of individual numbers, their quantities, and how they relate to one another within the number system.

A child who has good number sense skills understands:

  • each number is represented by its own symbol and quantity
  • how to solve real world mathematical problems
  • the relationship between numbers, such as how 20 and 140 are related
  • how numbers can be composed and decomposed (put together and taken apart)
  • how the basic +, -, x, and ÷ operations work and when to use each one

(Keep in mind this is over time, and will depend on the age and/or current level of the child.)

Why are Number Sense Skills so Important?

It is easy to think that in today’s age of computers and smartphones (that get smarter by the year), that number sense skills are becoming obsolete. This is not true, as all mathematics has a base in number sense skills.

This means that without a thorough understanding of the five points above, children will not be able to properly use the math they have been taught, and they will not be able to progress in the other disciplines of math.

In fact, the leading cause of struggles in math involves problems in counting, memorizing math facts, and other basic number sense skills.

But… Teaching Number Sense is Hard

You bet it is, but here are some sobering numbers:

  • 1 in 5 adults do not have the math skills of the average middle schooler.
  • 20% of adults do not have the necessary math skills to perform basic tasks in any given entry-level job, contributing to higher unemployment numbers.

How are Number Sense Skills Developed?

Simply put? Through lots and lots of practice within authentic experiences, or at the very least, situations that simulate authentic experiences.

Mathematical experts are recommending moving away from straight pencil and paper computation, which does little to boost a child’s critical thinking skills, and rather the latest movement in math education is providing children with multiple hands-on strategies for solving problems.

In addition, allowing children to think through and process a problem is beneficial, rather than simply identifying that the student has made an error.

What are Some Tips for Teaching Number Sense?

For success in teaching number sense, try some of these tips:

  • Provide authentic and real-life experience whenever possible.
  • Allow for practice.
  • Teach multiple strategies, allowing children to choose the strategy that makes the most sense to them.
  • Encourage students to talk about math and explain their thinking, even if their answer is wrong.
  • Provide manipulatives for problem-solving, rather than pencils and paper.
  • Model and encourage mental computation.
  • Allow time for children to compare their work to another, discussing the process of problem-solving.

What Else Does Research Say About Math Skills?

Number Sense Series: Developing Early Number Sense

Understanding Number Sense

Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Math

U.S. Students Improving – Slowly – in Math and Science, but Still Lagging Internationally

Americans are Spectacularly Bad at Answering Even the Most Basic Math Questions

Here’s How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work

*Guest post by Sarah from Stay at Home Educator

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The Secrets of Developing Number Sense

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