Number Sense Learning Goals – Overview, Examples, and Ways to Achieve

Last Updated on October 8, 2022 by Editorial Team

When you sit to draft the lesson plan, you tend to think backward; means, you have to concentrate first on what the outcome of the teaching will be and then you move on to devising strategies. These outcomes are nothing but learning goals. As a teacher to early math learners, you may be required to teach number sense[1]. It is one of the most important and basic skills that have relevance and use throughout life. Thus, you should be crisp in your thinking while devising number sense learning goals.

To help you with the process of designing number sense learning goals and applying them in classroom coaching or homeschooling, we cover in this post:

  • Brief overview of Number Sense
  • Number sense learning goals examples
  • Activities that help achieve number sense learning goals

So, let’s start!

Brief Overview of Number Sense

The ability to understand the value associated with numbers and use this information to perform mathematical operations of various types can be summed up as number sense. Several education researchers put forth their thoughts on number sense in various ways, for example:

  • Number sense helps develop the concept of cardinality. Children can firmly understand that each number invariably has a unique successor.(Le Corre M, Carey S. One, two, three, four, nothing more: An investigation of the conceptual sources of the verbal counting principles. Published in Cognition, 2007)
  • Number sense defines the magnitude of numbers. (Robert Siegler, Magnitude Knowledge: the common core of numerical development, Developmental Science, C.M. University, USA, 2016)

Thus, number sense moves things one step ahead of rote memorization and brings in elements of conceptual learning of the idea of numeracy, quantity, order, volume, and size represented by numbers.

Examples of number sense learning goals

Number sense tells a learner what a number denotes. It familiarizes math learners with the concept of quantity associated with a number. We have learned about subitizing in one of our previous posts. The process of subitizing emanates from the knowledge of number sense. So, learning goals should be contributing to the development of math skills in a child; a few important examples are:

Develop ease with complex calculations
  • Building patterns and sequence skills: Number sense learning gives an idea of quantity. From this idea, the other concepts like ascending order, descending order and the concept of cardinality emerge. So, by achieving learning goals of number sense, teachers can strive to make a child pattern-intelligent.
  • Learning dodging of numbers: To make a child capable of counting by 2s, 3s, 5s and then 10s as per the level of study makes a child confident of not skipping numbers while counting. Thus, counting abilities can be improved with thoughtfully carved goals for number sense.
  • Learn concept of quantity and size: Number sense helps differentiate big from small, and more from less. Thus, one of the learning goals examples is to find accurately the bigger or smaller thing. Children learn to understand the difference in quantity and size through picture cards, models and by referring to objects of daily use.
  • Develop ease with complex calculations: Going further, the learners develop intuitive approach towards numbers which they employ in doing calculation of complex nature.
  • Learn subitizing and estimating: Children should be able to subitize small sets of quantities and extend this ability to estimating when dealing with larger quantities or numbers. This learning goal is useful for making decisions like how much force required to lift anything, what distance is required to cover to reach destination or how long it takes to reach there, or the amount of space that will be needed to fit an object.

Activities that help achieve number sense learning goals

In a typical teaching session, the teachers employ methods to help children accomplish the learning goals that help develop number sense. Some of the tools and activities useful for developing number sense in children are:

number sense
  • Play counting games or solve counting worksheets
  • Arrange sets of things as per the numbers assigned in a particular order
  • Pick things from environments like pen and book, and other pairs of objects to impart understanding of small and big
  • Make pairs of children and ask these teams to have, say, 6-10 marbles each. Now ask one child to give marbles one by one to the teammate to teach the idea of succession of numbers and counting by 1s. You can modify this activity to teach dodging numbers by 2s, 3s, and 5s, etc.
  • Use differently shaped objects and ask them to fill water by pouring from a measuring cylinder. It helps them grasp the concept of volume, and that of light and heavy objects.

The Take-Away

Teaching number sense becomes more systematic when the learning goals are in focus. With the correct learning goals in mind, the teachers can design the lesson plan and complete the curriculum in mind. Also, the teaching planners must take care of relevant assessment methods so that one can determine correctly the proficiency levels achieved by children. It helps make education more meaningful; subsequently, children may become more math-competent and tackle all real-life mathematical problems with added ease.


[1] The study of number sense and teaching practice, Tsao and Lin, Journal of Case Studies in Education, 2011

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