TKG LEARN: Counting Collections

Counting Collections

by Julie Kern Schwerdtfeger and Angela Chan

Lakeisha has lined up paintbrushes across a table and is rolling them one by one to the side. Tyler and Auveen are wrapping pencils into bundles. Maya is organizing toy kangaroos, and her partner Cody is drawing a picture of how she is doing it. What is going on in this classroom?

Introduction- Why Count Collections?

Every year we spend several weeks in the Fall “counting collections” in the 5-7-year-old classrooms at Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School (UES) at UCLA. This work was inspired by Megan Franke who is a parent at our school, and a researcher in math education and children’s thinking who has often worked in our classrooms. Megan encouraged us to try counting collections of objects with our young children, believing this would provide children with rich opportunities to practice oral counting, to develop efficient counting strategies, to group objects in strategic ways, to record numbers and to represent their thinking. Research shows that although counting is one of the best ways we know to help children develop number sense and other important mathematical ideas, we don’t do nearly enough of it in elementary schools. Children need lots of experience with counting to learn which number comes next, how this number sequence is related to the objects in front of them, and how to keep track of which ones have been counted and which still need to be counted (Fuson, 1988a).

Experience with counting provides a solid foundation for future experience with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (NRC, 2001). Convinced by the literature as well as the outcomes we have seen for our students, counting collections has become a fundamental piece of what we do with young children at UES beginning the very first week of school each Fall. We hope this article will provide a window to what counting collections looks like in our classrooms and provide evidence that every child in our classrooms can build their mathematical skills by counting collections.

What are the “collections” and what do we ask children to do?

At first, as children are getting to know our classroom and we are getting to know our children, we have them take inventory of things we find in the room, like buckets of markers, pattern blocks, and legos. We have also accumulated boxes of shells, keys, coins, bottle caps, and the like, all of which are available for children to count. Later on, to add variety to what we have on hand, children bring collections from home, including things like hair clips, sugar packets, toy cars, beads, tree pods, pennies, and corks. Initially we simply ask children to choose a collection, count with a partner, and record what they counted and what their total was (see work sample A). Sooner than later we add complexity by asking children to also show us how they counted. In work sample B, you see Tess and Ashley’s recording of how they counted chains of ten links. While Ashley moved the chains two at a time from the table to the floor, Tess counted out loud by 20s. Their recording not only helped them keep track of their collection but also clearly represents their strategy.

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