Essentially, number sense is the ability for students to understand numbers, the relationship between numbers and use strategies to solve arithmetic problems. For instance, when adding fractions ½ plus ¾, a child with number sense would immediately see that ¾ is made up of ½ plus ¼. Two halves make one thus ½ plus ¾ equals 1 ¼. Although a child should learn to use common denominators and show their work, they should also use number sense to check their answers and make sense of the problem. Here are some tips on how to teach number sense and why it is important.
Showing Relationships Between Numbers
As much as I think kids should memorize basic addition, subtraction and multiplication facts, I also think they should understand what they are doing. After all, a child that understands that 2 times 3 is two equal groups of three (or three groups of two, or 3 plus 3) will use this information when multiplying bigger numbers. For instance, 23 times 11 is 10 groups of 23 (230) plus one more group of 23 or 230 plus 23 is 253. A simple game of “Circles and Stars,” a game created by Marilyn Burns (found in the book Math by All Means-Multiplication), can help students see the ‘visual representation’ of multiplication. In this game, students roll a dice twice. The first rolls shows ‘how many circles to draw’ (the first number in the multiplication equation) and the second roll (the second number in the multiplication equation) reveals ‘how many stars to draw in each circle.’ Finally, the player counts up the amount of stars (the answer).
Manipulatives can help a child solve a problem and also understand it. For instance, using fraction bars or fraction circle pieces can help students with number sense when learning about equivalent fractions or adding and subtracting fractions. Furthermore, having a young child use interlocking building blocks in different colors to model addition problems can help a child make a physical representation of the addition problem.
Using Math in the Real World
Often times, math is seen on paper but not explored in the real world. Calendars are a great way for young children to see sequence of numbers and talk about what number comes before and after. We use fractions all the time when we cook (I wrote more about real world fraction activities for kids here). When teaching slope, you can incorporate skateboard ramps. Pizza and pies are a great and yummy way to talk about circumference, radius and, of course, pi. When a child goes to complete a problem, they can remember the skateboard ramp, the calendar and the pie.
Learning how to teach number sense can help your students understand math better. In turn, they will be more successful and enjoy learning more.
More from Melissa:
How to Show Your Grade-Schooler That Math Is Fun
Engaging Activities to Teach Kids About Classifying Triangles
Fun Activities to Teach Kids About Angles