Promoting Number Sense in the Middle Grades

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  • 1 Teaches at the University of Missouri—Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211

Phrases such as “number sense,” “Operation sense,” and “intuitive understanding of number” are used throughout the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM 1989) to describe an intangible quality possessed by successful mathematics learners. Number sense refers to an intuitive feeling for numbers and their various uses and interpretations, an appreciation for various levels of accuracy when computing, the ability to detect arithmetical errors, and a common-sense approach to using numbers (Howden 1989; McIntosh, Reys, and Reys 1991). Number sense is not a finite entity that a student either has or does not have but rather a process that develops and matures with experience and knowledge. It does not develop by chance, nor does being skilled at manipulating numbers necessarily reflect this acquaintance and familiarity with numbers. Above all, number sense is characterized by a desire to make sense of numerical situations, including relating numbers to context and analyzing the effect of manipulations on numbers. It is a way of thinking that should permeate all aspects of mathematics teaching and learning.


Barbara Reys interests include exploring and promoting a variety of computational tools including calculators, mental computation, and estimation.

Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School


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