Math Junkie: Counting Collections

Before our 9 day vacation, I started a series of posts about how I do math in our classroom.  The first post was all about CGI and doing Math Mysteries {word problems} with my firsties.  As I posted about earlier, I do Math Mysteries in my classroom 3 times a week…usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

So what do we do the other two days?  I probably can’t fit that all in one blog post, so I’m going to divide it up.  We do Counting Collections on Mondays and we do Fact Fluency on Fridays {which I’ll post about later…}

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Last year was my first year to really do both of these things consistently.  And I probably didn’t start until around October after talking to some other friends about it.  So I’m still somewhat of a newbie balancing Counting Collections, Math Mysteries, and Fact Fluency {plus a daily dose of Math Wall…}  It’s not perfect, but so far it’s working really well in my room and I’m excited to see what it’s like this coming year!  You can check out my Counting Collections Packet here.  Everything you need to set up including pictures, materials, plans, etc is here!

So here was the problem: One thing I had noticed as a big problem with my firsties coming in last year is their inability to count and understand our system for counting.  They could rote count fairly well {MOST of them anyways! :)} and they could even “rote skip count” by 5s and 10s…but they just had no number sense or what skip counting actually means.  Plus, let’s face it: almost 100% of my first graders coming in cannot write all of their numbers correctly.  Especially those darn teen numbers {anyone else have littles that think 13 is 30. every. single. time???}  And while some people might see rote skip-counting as an okay skill, I see it as “not enough.”  Kids have to be able to understand that when I count by 5’s I’m counting 5 more each time and that I’m actually counting in groups of 5.  When we practice rote counting during Math Wall, I make sure that we go over the groups of  language over and over and over because I believe it is what builds the foundation for multiplication understanding.

I have used Counting Collections in the past, but it’s been a once-every-two-months kind of activity.  After doing it consistently on almost a weekly basis for most of the year last year, I’m convinced that Counting Collections has a regular place in the K-2 classroom. {I even have friends that teach 3rd-5th grade that use counting collections to count things other than whole numbers, like money and fractional pieces…can you imagine the awesome practice counting pieces of objects by halves or fourths??}

So what exactly is Counting Collections anyways?  Counting Collections is an activity in which students work in partners and groups to count a collection of something.  Yes.  It’s really that simple.  They might count beads, pasta, q-tips, blocks, stickers, or anything else super el-cheapo that you can find around your room or house!  All I bought were the cheap ziploc tubs to store them in.  $16 total investment and I’ll be able to use it every week year after year!  You can see in the picture below all of the collections I used.  And I didn’t buy a single thing.  This was all old manipulatives we weren’t using in my room anymore, or things from my house or pantry.  And this is really impressive considering I’m not even a pack rat.  So my friends who like to collect things *wink wink* will really have some fun things to choose from!

So what did you do to set it up in your classroom?  I spent several hours just counting. and counting. and counting.  Each tub has a certain color label on it.  Find the tubs I used here.  The tubs are color coded by number range.  My pink tubs have 1-20 objects in them. My orange tubs have 21-50. Yellow has 51-100 objects.  Green 101-120.  Blue 121-200 and white has 201-500 objects.  I made a key so I would know and remember how many pieces were in each tub as kids counted.  I gave my kids a counting assessment {that you can find in my Counting Collections Packet} which was basically an empty 120’s chart.  I gave them 20 minutes to start at 1 and count/write numbers as high as they could go.  Then I was able to see who needed to be counting in what range.  Obviously, I have the most yellow and green tubs because that is the “on grade level” counting range for first graders according to Common Core.  And I had the most kids on my assessment that stopped counting somewhere in that range after 20 minutes.

Once I have my firsties grouped by color, I assign partners of kids with the same color.  This will be their Counting Collections partner during the entire quarter.  I reassess them each quarter so that I can change their assignments up as they grow…and it’s a great thing I do because last year I had a kiddo that could only count to 7 on the first assessment and the next time–just 9 weeks later–he counted/wrote numbers all the way to 120!  I just about screamed for joy!!!  Counting Collections really, really does work!  I keep a color-coded record sheet of partners with a spot for me to record anecdotally how they are counting each week.  That’s just another formative assessment for me to keep track of my kids…and it’s great proof for parents!

So what does the first Counting Collections lesson look like?  The first time I did Counting Collections we did it as a whole group ONLY.  No one worked in partners.  I got a pretend collection and told them the goal of Counting Collections: I can count objects to 120.  I asked, “How could I count my collection of pop cubes?” Someone inevitably says, “1, 2, 3…” and will come up and count all of them.  We will count them all by ones together.  Then, I will ask, “Is there another way I could count them?” Usually, I will have someone that will suggest counting by 5s or 10s.  But you have to be really careful here because some kids will still pull one pop cube, but rote count by 10s.  This is what I was talking about earlier where kids can rote count but don’t understand that it means groups of.  Once we have come up with several ways to count, I pick one way and model how to record it on the recording sheet {also included in the packet for kinder, first and second grade.}

Throughout the model lesson, we are talking about my expectations and goals for Counting Collections and we are charting those on our Counting Collections anchor chart…

At the beginning of the year, my kids are also becoming more familiar with our Standards for Math Practices so I always try to tie those practices back to our goals for Counting Collections.  You can find some kid-friendly posters I made for each practice here.  This Counting Collections anchor chart is posted and reviewed every single week before starting our counting time.  We focus a lot in the beginning on how to handle the collections, and honestly, I didn’t have one issue with throwing, chewing, or using the collections appropriately.  They are just too engaged to mess with that!

So what does the daily grind of Counting Collections look like?  Once I’ve modeled sufficiently for a lesson or two, the kids start counting with their partners.  In my room, they have a specific counting spot they go to every week so they are not wasting time looking for a spot.

I start off each lesson with a goal of what I want for my kids {usually a math practice like “Attend to precision” or “Model with math” or even just “Cooperating with others.”} It’s especially perfect when I can use the same goal we are working on in Math Mysteries in Counting Collections that week too.  It really helps the kids make stronger connections!

Then I send the kids off to count with their partners and tubs.  They only get one tub for the day.  The first thing I tell them to do {and that we model together during the first lessons} is to make a plan for counting.  I walk around and ask each group, “How are you going to count today?  What is your plan?”  I’m wanting them to tell me, “I’m going to count by 1s,” or “We are counting by 5s,” etc…  That way I can watch for a little bit and see if they have that “group to group correspondence” {counting by 5s by counting a group of 5, not just rote counting.}  Each group counts differently.  In the beginning most count by 1s

and several of the ones that count by 5s or 10s don’t count correctly {they rote count without counting groups}.  But that’s okay because it’s a great thing for me to walk around and conference with them about.  And it’s also something we will talk about as a whole group later!

And there are always a few in the beginning that actually count the groups of 5s or 10s correctly…or by 20’s as in this first picture! {Thank you, Jesus!}

 You can’t get a better visual for grouping objects than this in my opinion.  It is so SO powerful!

As the year progresses, their counting gets more sophisticated and efficient.  It is truly remarkable!
These partners are counting by 100s later in the year…

When they finish counting, they record their total and fill out their recording sheet to show me how they counted.  For my early finishers, they recount their collection a different way on the back of their recording sheet.  This keeps them from going through tons of collections and it also keeps them in their counting spot and more on task.

At the end of our counting time {about 20-30 minutes}, we clean up and meet back at the carpet for share time.  Share time for Counting Collections is similar to share time in Math Mysteries.  I pick 2-3 people that did or did not meet our goal for the day and they talk about how they counted their collection.

I use highlighter to mark on their papers if I need to go back and model how to label counting or how to notate their thinking with equations.  Here are some examples from last April…

So how do you fit it in to your daily and weekly schedule?  Counting Collections takes a total of 40 minutes to an hour in my first grade room, depending on the length of share time.

Last year, I started doing Counting Collections in the Fall every single Monday.  That first semester my firsties really needed that counting practice every single week.  But by the second semester and especially the 4th quarter, we didn’t do it every single week.  3rd quarter we probably did Counting Collections almost every week {maybe missing once a month for another math skill game} and in the 4th quarter we only did it every other week or so.  They just got so good at it that I felt I needed to focus on other areas for skill practice.  That doesn’t mean they will be great in Counting Collections in their second grade classroom—because my second grade friends have their collections set up to count objects up to 1000 and beyond.  And just because they can count to 120 or 200 in first does NOT mean they can efficiently count and write numbers to and past 1000!  So I think it is definitely has its place in kindergarten, first grade and second grade!

Read the next few blog posts about setting up math in the classroom with fact fluency, number talks, and math story problems!

And check out my Counting Collections Packet for more details on my plans, pictures, lists of collections and keys, assessments, handouts and more!

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