I first heard about counting collections when I took Graham Fletcher’s Foundations of Numerical Reasoning course in the spring of 2022. It was a game changer for me! Counting collections are in essence just that – counting collections of different objects. But in that simplicity lies so much potential. For a start it is an authentic opportunity to practice skip counting, whether we are counting by 1s, or grouping by 2s, 5s, 10s. It is an opportunity to observe numerical reasoning in action through an activity that every student can access and which they find totally engaging.
In my classroom I introduce counting collections by taking students to the science lab and telling them that Ms. Nadine needs our help to count the math supplies that she needs to hand out to each grade level. So we bring out a collection of various things such as dice, dominoes, basically anything that you can count (usually in the range of 200-300 items per collection). The first time around I set students up in partnerships, give them a piece of paper to jot their thinking on and off they go. I am curious to see what students are able to do. You will see some students start to sort by color, some counting by 1s and lining up object after object, some already making groups of ten and talking about making larger groups of 100s. All useful data that helps me understand the mathematical reasoning in the room.
As we continue along our number sense journey we repeat this process a few times. In a matter of weeks students naturally come around to the understanding that bundling into groups (mostly of 10s and 100s) is a more efficient strategy than options they had previously tried. All they while they are building their numeracy skills and having a lot of fun in the process – so much so that they ask me on a weekly basis “are we counting collections today?”
Graham Fletcher in his course also suggests a few scaffolds to support students, for example by providing egg cartons to “make groups in” and also various types of ten frame papers to move objects onto. I have used these in the past, I have also just had students make groups by drawing directly on their whiteboard tables, and sometimes as well on paper to show how they were counting. Sometimes I use counting collections as one of my math stations, and other times we do the activity whole class. On average it will take 2 students about ten minutes to count a collection of about 200 items – including the time they spend discussing how they want to count and noting their thinking on paper. I always have more collections to count available than student groups so if a group finishes they can choose another collection to count. While you and I might think it dull and repetitive the students love it! A big thank you to Graham Fletcher for providing the inspiration to try it in my classroom.