Teaching Number Sense, Grade 1


Number sense encompasses a wide range of skills, including being able to make estimates and to think and reason flexibly.

In these lessons, children build their understanding of counting, number relationships, and landmark numbers. They also develop computation strategies, further their understanding of composing and decomposing numbers, and develop a beginning sense of place value.

This book is part of the Teaching Number Sense, Complete Series.

Chris Confer
160 Pages

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Review by Michele Repass, first-grade teacher at Falmouth Elementary in Stafford County, Virginia. From the Summer 2007 issue of Intersection, a newsletter of the ExxonMobil Foundation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2007, by ExxonMobil Corporation.

What does it mean for a student to have number sense? Chris Confer attempts to answer this question and give teachers ideas for developing it in her book, Teaching Number Sense, Grade 1. She notes that children need time to develop their understanding of numbers and emphasizes that a child’s abilities are completely dependent on his math experiences. Confer’s constructivist approach gives teachers hope that number sense can indeed be built!

In the introduction, Confer outlines the basic concepts students need in order to have number sense. Students in first grade need to be able to count, recognize number relationships, compose and decompose numbers, and use the following landmark numbers: 5, 10 and 20. Confer explains that students should use the strategies that work best for them. She believes that teachers in the primary grades should take the time to allow their students to construct foundational understandings about numbers for themselves. Confer wants teachers to use her book as a guide to help build a classroom of students who can use number sense to “use what they know to figure out what they don’t know.”

The book is divided into five sections, each with lessons focusing on a different aspect of building number sense. Each lesson follows the same format, beginning with a brief overview, materials list and a suggested time allotment. Confer then provides step-by-step teaching directions and ideas for assessment. The reader is guided through the entire process of setting up the lesson. Tips are given for preparing materials ahead of time, introducing students to the activity, placing students in groups and then circulating and interacting with students. Confer advocates allowing students to work with the same math buddy for an extended time. She believes this helps them delve more deeply into the math behind the different activities. The most user-friendly section of each lesson is the realistic vignette that helps readers see and hear students as they explore the activity in an actual classroom.

Confer has developed 19 classroom tested activities that involve students in hands-on explorations to develop their number sense. The lessons use various manipulatives, including dice, two-color counters, bean counters, pattern blocks, number lines, and Unifix cubes. Numerous recording sheets are also used, each of which is included in the Blackline Masters section of the book. Several lessons also encourage the use of literature to introduce the mathematical concept.

Chris Confer has succeeded in writing an easy-to-read book that provides teachers with many options for developing their students’ number sense. The lessons are easy to implement and lead to authentic conversations with students about their understandings of how numbers work. Confer believes that true learning only occurs when children are provided with multiple exposures to a new mathematical concept. Her book is an excellent vehicle for this mode of instruction.

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