Number Sense 101
Going beyond a surface level of understanding numbers is a very important foundation for future maths mastery – which is why the topic of number sense must be visited. The easiest way to understand this concept is to think about young learners in their early years, grasping what numbers are and what we can do with them. Then, throughout their education, kids soon begin enhancing their sense of numbers and become more confident when using them.
Different teaching strategies have been developed in each curriculum worldwide to enhance children’s number sense. But more generally, how we track the impact and progress of number sense is very similar from country to country. And this is because there is a wealth of research on this concept. For example, a study conducted in the late 1980s found that babies could understand and appreciate differences in numbers. This research suggested that people are born with a sense of numbers and a small toolbox of strategies to use them. As educators and parents, it’s our responsibility to strengthen this understanding into fluid mastery.
What does good number sense look like?
People can have a stronger number sense than others – but how can we determine this? There will typically be a structured program in different curriculums to teach and analyze number sense in children. These programs can be systematically structured around three other ideas, which encompass number sense in a nutshell. These include:
- Amount – This is the ability for children to understand and have an awareness of what different digits represent;
- Ordering – We can challenge kids’ number sense by acknowledging their ability to compare numbers with one another;
- Position – Here, children understand the value of a digit and its place in a number. When practicing this, we can focus on a topic like place value to strengthen young learners’ understanding of numbers and place values like units, tens, and hundreds, for example.
We can also determine good number sense when children are comfortable with maths in class and at home. This can be seen in their confidence with numbers when enjoying maths resources and games and becoming more fluent in learning and applying what they know. They can also give reasons for their answers, identify relationships between numbers and predict outcomes.