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The Building Blocks of Number Sense

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.


I've been doing a lot of thinking about math in my classroom. More specifically, how it's going,

what our math routines are, and how they can be improved. As teachers, we spend a lot of time

reflecting on our teaching practice, so today I want to share with you some of my thoughts on 

building number sense in the primary classroom.


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The foundation of math is having a true understanding of the relationship between numbers.

This is what we call number sense, not to be confused with number fluency, (though number fluency

can be built while building number sense).  However, it's much more complicated than its name

suggests.


What Is Number Sense?

When a student has number sense, they understand what numbers are and the relationships

between numbers, which means that they have sense of what the numbers actually mean.

They are able to understand and manipulate quantities, comprehend concepts such as more

or less, larger or smaller and they can compose and decompose numbers.  They can compare

numbers, perform mental math and can use numbers in real-world situations. When they are

confronted with numerical situations, they use their skills to solve for what they don't know.

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.



How Can Students Gain Number Sense?

Students gain number sense by examining numbers, visualizing numbers in a variety of ways,

number talks, hands-on strategies, and tons and tons of practice! If you are just starting out in

your building number sense journey, I'm going to share with you a few places where you can

begin.


Counting and Cardinality

When students begin to count, to them, it's as easy as singing the ABC song. It seems like a simple

concept, but counting is anything but easy. It's basically rote counting without application.

At this point, they are saying the numbers in order, without attaching meaning to them.

We do a lot of counting in my room. Counting collections, counting skittles,

counting how many students are here today, etc., anything to get them counting.

We read a ton of counting books, and the visuals are so important for them to see that the numbers

they are saying are connected to how many items there are.

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.
When students have a basic understanding of the counting sequence, then I add the next layer. I

start to give them a number, and they have to tell me the next number in the counting sequence.

I listen to see who needs to begin at 1, and who can give me the next number without starting over.

During this time, we are identifying, writing, and building our numbers in every way that we can.

We use a lot of roll and record, where we roll a number (we use dice!), and they write the number

that comes up. We also build our numbers with play-dough, which is nice because it also helps with

fine motor skills!

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.

As students begin to move on to cardinality, they begin to have an understanding of how many items

are in a group that has already been counted. 



One-to-One Correspondence

One-to-one correspondence also falls under counting and cardinality. However, it is extremely

important, so I wanted to talk more about it. As students develop one-to-one correspondence,

they continue to build number sense, they start to add meaning to their counting, and the

groundwork is laid for when they begin computations. You want to move them beyond rote

counting and attaching a numeral to an object. When students master one-to-one correspondence,

they are able to understand the relationship between numerals and quantities. They understand that

three skittles can be given to three people. You can find more info by clicking on the picture

below!

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.


Subitizing

When students are able to subitize, they are able to see a quantity of items, and instantly know how

many there are. If I hold up 7 fingers, you would immediately be able to tell me how many fingers

I am holding up, without counting them over again. If I roll a die, you would instantly be able to tell

me how many dots you see.


In my classroom, subitizing is a part of our daily math routine. We practice looking at

quantities in a ten or twenty frame, and in scattered arrangements. Subitizing helps to begin

to build number fluency, which we'll talk more about next time. You can find these subitizing

packs by clicking here or on the picture below!

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.

I've also found that these subitizing routines are great for math small group, when students need

more practice with this skill. Grab your free subitizing pack by clicking here or on the picture!

Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.

If you are looking for more lessons on teaching number sense, a great book for that is Teaching

Number Sense, Kindergarten by Chris Confer. I love that it is a book dedicated only to kindergarten,

because it annoys me when books are labeled K-2, but what that really means is that kindergarten

is sprinkled in a little bit, but it really focuses on 1st and 2nd grade. You can find this book by 

clicking here or on the picture. 


This is just the beginning of building number sense, but I hope that it gets you off to a great start!

If you have any questions, please sound off in the comments below!



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Number sense plays an essential role in helping students to develop mathematical understanding.

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