Category Archives: Counting Collections

Counting Collections Extension

Today in 1st grade, we did a counting collections activity. One thing I am thinking about as I see this activity happening in K-2 classrooms, is the extension. While choosing questions for students who are struggling is difficult, choosing questions for those who are finished quickly, and correctly, I find just as difficult. What questions can we ask those students who organize, count and can explain their count perfectly?

I have been toying around with this idea for a bit. I have thought about asking them to combine collections, ask how many more they would need to get to another number or mentally adding tens and hundreds to their count.

Today, I tried asking a student how many more to get to another number. It was pretty cool and led to some more ideas. He and his partner ended with 292. I asked how many more to get to 300? 8. 350? 58. He could explain using the 8 to get to 300 and how to move forward from there. Because of other groups I wanted to chat with, I left him with 500, 652, 1,000, and 1,250. He came back with the answers, but no explanation and said, “I don’t feel like writing all of that out.” I asked him to explain how he got to 500 and I would record the equation for it. He said he added 8 to get to 300 and then 200 more to get to 500, so 208. He was shocked to see it as an equation because he thought I meant to explain it all out in words. I asked him to try the next one and he started with adding 10. He said he wanted to keep the 2 ones to make it easier, awesome. When he said that, I had another idea to have students think about what place values are changing as they add to a certain number. I want to ask him why he ended with 8 ones on three of them but zero ones in another?

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I know I have seen tons of people on Twitter using counting collections and would love to hear of other ways we could extend this activity in the comments!

Obsessed With Counting Collections

If you have seen my recent Twitter feed and blog posts, you can probably tell I am currently obsessed with Counting Collections! Because of this obsession, during our recent K-2 Learning Lab I made it the focus of our conversation. This was our first chance to talk across grade levels during a Lab and to hear the variation in ways we could incorporate counting in each was so interesting! Based on this lab, yesterday, I had the chance to participate in both a 2nd grade and Kindergarten counting collection activity and while there were so many similarities, I left each thinking about two very different ideas!

2nd Grade: Naming A Leftover

Based on our Learning Lab discussions three 2nd grade teachers had the amazing idea to combine their classes for a counting activity. While it was a great way to give students the opportunity to work with students from other classrooms, it also offered the teachers a chance to observe and talk to one another about what they were seeing while the activity was in progress. I was so excited when they sent me their idea and invitation to join in on the fun! I have never seen so much math in an elementary gymnasium before!


There was a lot of the anticipated counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s and a bit of sorting:

And while this is so interesting to see students begin to combine their groups to make it easier to count in the end, there were three groups counting base 10 rods that particularly caught my attention:

1st Group (who I missed taking a picture of): Counted each rod as 1 and put them in groups of 10.

2nd Group: Counted each rod as 10 because of the 10 cube markings, making the small cube equal to 1. They had a nice mix of 20’s in their containers!


3rd Group: Counted each rod as 10 but had a mix of rods, small cubes and some larger blocks. It was so neat to see them adjust the way they counted based on size…the rod=10, small cube=1 and the large block=5 (because they said it looked like it would be half a rod if they broke it up). After this beginning picture, they arranged the 10 rods to make groups of 100.


The second and third group ended up with a final count and recorded their thinking, however group 1 could not wrap it up so neatly. When they finished counting they had 141 rods but one small cube left over. Since they were counting each rod as 1, instead of 10, they were left trying to figure out how to name that leftover part. When I asked the group what they were thinking, one boy said, “It is kind of like half but smaller.” I asked him how many he would need for half of the rod and he examined the rod and said 5. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure where to go with this knowing their exposure to fractions is limited to half and fourths at this point. So, I asked him, “How much we do have of one rod” and he said 1.  I followed with, “Of how many?” and he answered, “Ten. So we have 141 and 1 out of 10?” Thankfully it was approaching time to clean up so I could think more about this one. I feel like I left that idea hanging out there and would love to bring it back to the whole class to think about, but I am still wondering, what question would have been good there? How would you structure this share out so this idea of how we name 1 is important and impacts our count? How do we name this leftover piece and why didn’t a group counting the same thing not have that problem? Also, I think it will important for these students to think about the question they could ask that their count would answer…For example, how many objects do you have – would that be accurate for the group who counted each rod as 10?

Kindergarten: Why Ten Frames?

Every time I am in Kindergarten I leave with so many things to think about! In this case I left the activity thinking about Ten Frames. I am a huge fan of ten frames, so this is not about do we use them or do we not, but more about….Why do we use them? How do we use them? What is their purpose? What understandings come from their use? What misunderstandings or misconceptions can be derived from their use? and Where do these misunderstanding rear their ugly head later?

To start the lesson, groups of students were given a set to count. With a table of tools available to help them organize their count, ten frames were by far the most popular choice. However, not having enough (purposefully) for everyone’s set pushed them to think of other means… which ended up looking like they were on a ten frame as well!

As the teachers and I went around and chatted with groups, we heard and saw students successfully counting by 10’s (on the frames or look-alike frames) and then ones. This is what we hope happens as students work with the ten frames, right? They see that group of 10 made up of 10 ones and then can unitize that to 1 group. It reminds me of Cathy Fosnot’s comment via Marilyn Burns on Joe’s post, which I had huge reflection on after this lesson too!

I was feeling great about the use of ten frames until a first grade teacher and I were listening to one group count their set. I wish I snagged a pic, but I was so stuck trying to figure out what to ask the girls, that I didn’t even think about it. They had arranged 4o counters on 4 ten frames and had one left over, sitting on the table, no ten frame. We asked how she counted and she said, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50…the 1 leftover was counted as a 10. I immediately thought of Joe’s post. Not knowing exactly what to do next, I tried out some things…

  • I picked up the one and asked her how many this was, “One” and then pointed and asked how much was on the ten frame, “Ten.” Ok, so can you count for me one more time? Same response.
  • I filled an extra ten frame pushed it next to her 4 other full ones and asked her to count: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50. I removed 9, saying “I am going to take some off now,” leaving the one on the ten frame and asked her to count again. Same response.
  • I asked her to count by 1’s and she arrived at 41. So I asked if it could be 41 and 50 at the same time. She was thinking about it for a minute but stuck with “that is what I got when I counted.”
  • Then I became curious if she had a reason for using the ten frame, I asked. She said it was to put her things on so I began wondering about the usefulness of the 10 frames for her. Was is something, as an object, that represents 10 to her but not able to think about the 10 things that make it up?

I left that class thinking about how complex unitizing is. We hope students are able to count 10 things, know those 10 things are still there even when we start calling a unit, 1 ten, and then combine those units but still know there are 10 in each one of them. WOW, that is a lot! However, they can easily appear successful in counting by 10’s, which is one of the many reasons Counting Collections are so powerful. They bring to light the misunderstandings or missing pieces in students’ thinking.

I then start to think of recent conversations I have had with 4th grade teachers about students who are struggling with multiplying a number by multiples of ten and wonder if this is where we can “catch” those misunderstandings and confusions before they compound?

What to do next with this class? Erin, the teacher, and I quickly discussed this as she was busy transitioning between classes. We were thinking about displaying an amount, lets say 23, with two full ten frames with 3 extra. Say to the class, “Here are two sets, do they look the same? How can  you tell? Two groups counted this amount two different ways.  One group counted it 10, 20, 21, 22, 23 and the other group counted it 10, 20, 30, 40, 50. Can it be both? If so, how? If not, which one is it?”

Would love any other thoughts. I am heading back to re-read all of the comments on Joe’s post to gain more insight, but I would love your thoughts too!


Counting is Complex

There are so many interesting things to consider when counting, however having taught upper elementary and middle school, I have never taken the time to consider these complexities. After doing a Counting Collections activity in Kindergarten on Friday, I saw so many foundational ideas being constructed in simply counting a set of things. As I planned and implemented the activity with Kindergarten teachers Jenn and Michele, I felt a lot of the ideas in this post by Joe Schwartz, including the amazing counting conversations, surfacing.

The lesson plan seemed simple: Give the students a set of things to count. Walk around, watch, listen, and ask questions. From that simple plan, our planning conversation was filled with so many questions since this group of students had never done a counting collections activity. After watching this Teaching Channel video, we began asking ourselves: What is important about the set of things when students count? What tools do we make available? How do we keep them from grabbing every tool because they can? What questions do we ask? What numbers are appropriate for each student? How will they record their thinking? What is the end idea we want students to leave thinking about? This post would be so long if I included our decisions on all of this, but I am happy to answer any questions in the comments if you are curious. Not that they were the right or wrong answers, but our decisions.

We decided to keep the sets the same object, same color to avoid students sorting by color. I think it will be an interesting conversation in the future about what matters when we are counting, but for the first time, we wanted to really see what they did with counting without distractions and how they recorded their count. We made available big cups, small cups, ten frames and plates.

These are some of the interesting things we observed students considering when counting and explaining their count…

Choice of Tool(s)

Students had to consider the size of the object and size of the set to decide on the tool they felt would best organize their set. We saw groups switch because their object did not fit in or on what they originally chose. Some groups liked the plates to stack and organize their count because the ten frames took up too much space on the table. I wish I got a picture of one group who used the yellow and blue ten frames in the picture below…they put their full tens on the blue and their ones on the yellow and were able to articulate that statement as their counting strategy.

Counted vs Not Counted

This is where the tool they chose came into play again. Some groups chose to put the uncounted objects in one cup and count by 1’s into another cup. For these groups we saw a lot of losing track of count. We anticipated this in our planning and decided to ask them if there was another way they could count to help keep track of their numbers or if there was a way to organize their objects so we could see how they counted when we walked up.IMG_1622

Another group drew a line on their first plate and said it was for ones they counted and ones they hadn’t, however as the crayons took up too much space, they moved to putting 10 on a plate.

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Do We Even Have to Count?

This group got away with not really doing any counting at all until they combined their end organization. They filled a ten frame and poured it into cups. It was interesting because in the first, smaller set they counted just before this larger one, they filled all 10 frames on their table (in the pic under Choice of Tool). As it took up too much space this time, they switched.


How We Count vs How We Record The Number Of Objects We Count

This group put 10 on each plate and started to label each plate by 10s, however on the second plate one partner wrote “20” because she was counting, 10, 20, 30..etc. Her partner corrected her and said there were not 20 on the plate. You can see the scratched out mark on the plate and hear it here.


Adjusting for Larger Sets

This group kind of blew my mind. Their second set was 225, so they decided to put ten beans in every box of the ten frame. They were then even able to articulate the fact they knew 10 groups of 10 is 100. You can listen to them here. This is my first try with YouTube, so if this doesn’t play, please let me know in the comments;)


Recording Our Counting

This was one of the areas where we were so curious to see what happened! Jenn and Michele do a ton of Number Talks and journal writing, however during the Number Talks, the teachers does the recording. We didn’t know if they would draw everything they counted or be able to record it more abstractly with equations or would they do both? We did see a mix of all of this!

When Counting and Number of Things Counted Gets Jumbled…What To Do?

We had the groups share their first set (which were all in the 50s) and one group picked up on a counting strategy and way to organize that got a bit jumbled in the end.  This group put 10 on the first plate, 20 on the second, 30 on the next, etc. It was like counting by 10s but now there were not 10 on each plate. When I asked how many were on each plate, they were able to tell me that the number they recorded way was the number of beans on each plate and when I asked how many were there altogether, they said they didn’t know. This is where they ended:


So, where would you go from here with this group? Our feeling is to pull out the ten frames and put the beans from each plate on them because the students are really great at seeing and counting by 10s in this way. Would this be an interesting thing for the whole class to explore?

So many things to think about when counting! I love to think about how these ideas of counting and combining groups keep showing up in the work I am doing in all of the other grade levels! If we could really do this more and give students space to make sense of groups and how and why they work, wouldn’t it make so much of their future math work so much more accessible? If students really understood these foundational ideas, would we need to spend the time (and money) on intervention programs in later grades that are addressing these very same things?

Counting is Complex but we can structure ways to allow students to be successful in thinking about all of these ideas!

2nd Grade – Even and Odd

Yesterday, I brainstormed my plan for the 2nd grade lesson I taught today. I started by giving each pair of students a set of things to count and I asked them to explain how they counted and why they chose to count that way. I was excited to see such a variety of counting strategies such as 2’s, 5’s 10’s and then combinations of all of these. As I walked around, this is what I saw…

As a whole group, we shared strategies for counting and the students discussed how they combined the numbers. I then had them switch their container with another group. They were all mixed up so they didn’t know how many were in the new container. With this container of objects, I asked them to see if they could split the contents into two equal groups.

I don’t know if my thinking is even on track here, but since Tara had mentioned students were struggling determining whether a number could be divided equally into two parts without physically passing out each one, I thought having students think about the ways in which they count in comparison to splitting a number in half, could be helpful here. For example if a student is trying to divide 42 into two equal teams, he or she could think that two 20’s would be 40 and 2 left over to give to each 20 to make 21. Or even four 10’s and 2 ones, so each team gets two 10’s and then a one from the two leftover. Like I said, I could be completely off-base but it proved to be an interesting trial!

As I walked around I saw some really cool halving going on!

This group did a visual split symmetrically and then each counted their “half” and then they passed them back and forth until they had the same amount. Like a guess and check. It seems something like finding half of 46….”I know it is 20-something, so you take 20, I have 26, here take 1 of mine, now it is 21 and 25, so take 2 more of mine and now we each have 23.”


I saw the completely symmetrical works. not counting at all, they just lined them up by twos and said their plan was to “push the two rows apart.” It seems like counting by 2’s to get to 46 and then seeing how many times you had to do that.


This group did what I was hoping to connect to the counting they did earlier. They grouped them in 10’s and then split them in half. They ended up having an odd number and wanted to put that in decimals so bad. There was a lot of .5 talk. So interesting! IMG_1253.jpg

Then I saw a student who counted them by one’s and then divided the number he got in half. (The top part is is counting group, the bottom is the halving of a different number.)


We ended with a journal entry on any similarities and/or differences we saw between the counting and the dividing into two groups. Sadly, I had to leave to go down and teach Kindergarten, so I have to pop back up to check out their journals tomorrow. I think that could be a great place for Tara to start tomorrow and then do a number talk about splitting a number into two equal groups.

I still have to think on this lesson more. I learned a lot about how the students count in 2nd grade, which after being in a Kindergarten class was really fantastic and I loved the way they saw symmetry in sets. That was beautiful. However, I think there are are some other great connections to be made here but I am not sure it was helpful connections for everyone. Most students seemed to have some great strategies for halving so I am wondering what they took away from this? I have to pop back up tomorrow and see what the journals say to see if I can get a better read on the class.