Developing number sense is the first step for children to feeling comfortable with math and everyday calculation, and also the path to developing a fondness for numbers and a flexibility when working with them. When children learn the names of numbers, what composes them, what they mean, how to use them, and how to apply them to real-world referents, it makes the children feel comfortable and confident and both eager and able to engage with math.
Having number sense allows children to have flexibility with numbers. It allows them a confidence when working with numbers and a capability to make well judged estimates.
I have based the Number Agents approach on this awareness and understanding. I believe it is crucial that the 'professional development' presented to the agents takes the form of activities that allow children to do this. I have developed some key elements within my programme that have a visual component, these work exceptionally well for children when building an awareness of numbers and in their development of the five components of number sense listed in the article below. My basic pack that explains how I do this and what activities I use can be found here. Once again I am a big believer in using everyday items and having dice, dominoes, popsicle sticks and tens frames along with regular and irregular subitizing cards on hand are a must in my agency.
Another key way Agency develops number sense is through discussion. A lot of what we do centres around modelling and development of strategies and the ability to discuss and explain them. Cowgirl calculation has been a god send here. The children love listening to her explain things and are always keen to share how they solved a problem. The talk moves (also referred to as math talk) has been a brilliant addition to the way I teach maths and absolutely crucial for children when crystallising and consolidating their ideas.
Cowgirl Calculation - Our Agent Talk Moves expert
The professor also helps out greatly on this front. He is great at discussing new ideas and presenting new knowledge or exploring and extending on knowledge. The agents are much more engaged with the professor in puppet form and love working with him.
I am also working on using more open ended problems in agency and would love to get to the point of using numberless word problems this term. Agent eyes works really well here with children really building on their ability to notice and discuss. I love the site Have You Got Maths Eyes it is fabulous. I have also developed my own basic pack here of photos. Basically the more open the picture is , the more discussion is provoked. It is also a great way to combine strand and number. My pack is here. I find I am constantly seeing images that would make a great visual starter to our discussions.
The whole essence of agency is about bringing an authenticity and purpose to maths, for children to develop number sense there needs to be a purpose for them to do so...Number Agents gives them that purpose in a fun and engaging manner. I also find that during self-directed play based sessions children are more likely to discuss and share what they are doing on a deeper level and seem to notice much more.
My goal this year is to continue to build on ways to foster this growth in number sense as I see this as absolutely crucial in developing confident mathematicians. The work of Jo Boaler is a great place to start if you have not done a lot of exploring in this area.