Student Engagement

Counting Collections: How to Build Classroom Community Now Teaching Numeracy

Did you ever put your whole head into your Hallowe’en treat bag, and count how many chocolate bars, chip bags, and pieces of gum you had received? My parents weren’t trying to build classroom community of course, but at our house wonderful memories were made, and it definitely built family community. 🎃

Even if my dad did take all of the MacIntoshes toffee. 🙃

My sister even got a black kitten one year.  He was named Spooks!

As I look back, I now realize that this was my first version of counting collections.

When I was growing up we also counted marble collections (such a popular game in my school days), car collections, baseball cards, and anything that was cool at the time.

These are all counting collections, and they are a great way to build classroom community which is so essential for effective classroom management.

What is ‘counting collections’?

Counting Collections is when children count a collection of similar items and record their findings  with a goal in mind.

You will find counting collections kindergarten and even in preschool.  However, they are not just for early primary students.  There are also counting collections grade 2, and even in middle school. 

The goal  may involve counting one-by-one,  skip counting with counting collections by groups or forming groups of 5s, counting collections groups of 10, or even more.

Children write down how they have organized and counted their collection.  Sometimes they do it while counting, and sometimes they are able to leave it to the end.  

The counting collections manipulatives can be anything from race cars to pebbles. 

I don’t recommend marbles as counting collections items but I’ve had kids count pebbles outside in the playground and they loved it because they loved being outside, and they were building a classroom community the whole time.

Why use counting collections to build classroom community?

The many benefits of counting collections include: 

1. Student – teacher relationships: the backbone of classroom community.

Counting collections can be transformational  when used strategically. 

If you think of the number two written in Sanskrit or in the Cyrillic alphabet it means no more to you then if it’s written in Navajo. 

In order for that number that has been written in Sanskrit to be relevant in your life you need to make a connection between that black-and-white little  squiggly  mark and the number of objects. 

That is what counting collections do.  

Amongst the many benefits of counting collections is that  children have the opportunity to make sense of the concepts they have learned in class and practice counting in a real context.

This concrete connection with counting and the materials that have been counted is the foundation for understanding the base-ten system and operating on numbers.

Circulating while students are counting is a wonderful opportunity to observe strategies used, encourage new strategies or adapt the level of challenge, chatting about what the students record, affirming collaboration, and even problem solving with the students.

As you circle and support you are building connection with the students. A positive relationship with you is the foundation of how to build classroom community for your students. 

Counting Collections are an opportunity for your students to take the items within a counting collection and apply the understanding that these concrete objects are relevant to the abstract concept of little black  squiggles we call numbers that we expect them to work with all the time.

2. Enrich social emotional learning skills to build classroom community

Counting collections give students an opportunity to interact socially.  As you monitor and encourage sharing, taking turns, appropriate language, collaborative skills and so much more you are also teaching them real life skills and providing an opportunity for them to practice social emotional learning skills.

Problem-solving occurs as students work together to determine how they’re going to go on their collections they will be problem-solving collaboratively, and they will also be developing critical thinking skills. 

3. Scaffold new relationships with counting collections

In addition to being a  social emotional learning activity, counting collections are a fantastic way to scaffold building new relationships.

Not everyone in your classroom is going to become a bestie with everyone else.  However, we do want them to learn to be pleasant and kind to everyone.

One of the options is to partner your students with random partners using partner cards.  As the students learn to interact with random partners, they get to know each other at least a little bit.  

It is harder to be unkind to someone with whom you have had some fun, or success, or problem solved, or . . . . 😏

When students are working together on a shared focus it takes their mind off the awkwardness of relationship building. In this way counting collections help to build classroom community.

They just get to interact with their classmates in a more supported context. 

We operate the same as adults.  I abhor small talk because I am horrible at it, but I also like to put others at ease.  

How do I do that?  I look for common interests, of course.  I am certain you do too.

To put that in a classroom context, counting collections is the vehicle that supports the first interaction(s) of these relationships. 

I am really frugal with classroom time as I know that it is finite, and there is so much to do.  

Finding effective and engaging ways to build classroom community within regular instructional time  is not optional to me; it is essential. 

Counting collections are both effective and engaging. 

4. Homogenous group differentiation in math instruction using counting collections. 

Once you  have amassed  the objects for counting collections the work is done, and then it is so easy to differentiate in math

You have:

  1. One group of students that is working on counting from 1 to whatever. 
  2. Another group that is working on counting collections groups of 10. 
  3. The next group that is working on counting but first sorting all their counters into groups of different colours or shapes or sizes, and that group will then be adding those numbers together. 

This may  be a collection where none of the groups that have been sorted are larger than 10. Then they can add these smaller 1 digit numbers. 

Or even if they are counting a larger collection with groups that are 2 digit numbers, their sole responsibility is to count each group, and place the containers for each group in order from smallest to largest or vice versa.  

They could also graph it.

  1. Another, more advanced group might use the same collection. If they have 25 green, 13 orange, and 19 blue, they can  then add those same groups. That same collection has them practising two-digit addition with regrouping.

5. Build classroom community using mixed abilitiy groups and differentiation of numbers

Differentiation in math instruction can be challenging, and counting collections are one of the easiest ways to do it.

Counting collections can be tailored to meet the needs of individual students even when students with different abilities are working together.

When you use random partner cards and student abilities are at different levels they can work together, but still be responsible for different things.  

 Advanced students can work with larger numbers or have more complex requirements, while those needing additional support can start with smaller more manageable sets.

For example, two students have just finished counting 89 multi-coloured bears into groups of 8 tens with 9 ones left over.   

Now have them work together to sort the bears by colour.

Then give them different options.  You may want to teach a few options ahead of time, make a counting collections anchor chart, or write the option on a board. 

Lower entry level activity

 – choose one colour group of bears and count it

– let’s say there are 12 orange bears, write 3 equations that equal 12, and draw pictures of each equation

– if time the student can write a word problem for one of the equations.

Higher entry level activity

 – write a vertical addition equation using  the numbers from two or three (or more depending upon ability) groups of bears, and add them up.

 – check the result by counting those bears when it is only from the 2-3 groups.

 – write a word problem for the addition

During these activities they are still learning to work together as they plan their count, then their sort, problem solve who will use which colour first etc.. 

Then they both have their own work to do, but it will still take collaboration as they share the items from the collection.

The only planning required is an actively engaged teacher providing directions as to the next task for the students who are working together. 

Over time, students will become familiar with the various tasks and will know to do them independently.  Also, as students develop their skills they will already be aware of additional challenges as they remember seeing an earlier partner workign on a more significant challenge. 

6. Counting collections and oral language development build classroom community

Oral language is a precursor to all language skills

As students interact together they will be developing their oral language skills which is a tremendous support for their reading and writing skills. 

Your ESL students also benefit as they are learning from hearing the language in use.  This ten supports their comprehension and pronunciation during reading, syntax, spelling and more during writing. 

The ESL students won’t just learn from the teacher. They will learn English by interacting with English-speaking learners and English-learning speakers. 

Counting collections is such a simple activity.  It provides repetitive practice, and allows ESL students who are strong in math to offer that strength to the classroom. 

Once again it provides that bridge for building relationships as mentioned in point 3 above.

7.  Foster a growth mindset to build classroom community

Starting with basic collections provides a confidence boost for students who might initially find math intimidating, and confidence will help you to build a growth mindset in your students.  

Counting collections gives them a sense of accomplishment and encourages a positive attitude towards math.

As students become more proficient with counting collections, they develop a growth mindset, understanding that with effort and practice, they can tackle increasingly complex tasks.

Confident students are also more able to collaborate, problem solve, and speak up for themselves.  All of this will help to build classroom community that is safer for the children and more engaged.

8. Counting collections encourage critical thinking

A well-planned progression (such as those touched upon in 3 and 4, and continuing on from there) prompts students to think critically about numbers and patterns. 

They begin to explore concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in a hands-on way. Often independently.

For more on a well-planned progression please see my next blog post.

Counting collections at home

This is not related to how to build classroom community, but it is a great  idea for parents who want to do some home activities. 

Because my students knew how to do counting collections independently, it was actually an activity I sent home during Covid.  

Ask parents to pull together a collection of buttons, or if they are looking for some work when they visit Hawaii mid-year, seashells work.  

Hiking in the Rockies?  Pine cones work!

I think you get the idea. 😉  

Parents can take students outside or to the table, whatever works. sit with their child and count these together.   As you have taught your students various things to do with counting collections, so they will teach their parents.

Better yet have the student model counting collections at student led conferences with you supervising as you wander, you can ensure that all the students are communicating it well. 

No doubt about it: counting collections build classroom community.

Counting collections are a personal favourite of mine, as I am certain you can see. They have so many positive impacts on students, and the children love them!

Counting collections are a play based learning opportunity that incorporates:

  • concrete connections in numeracy.
  • social emotional learning.
  • scaffolding new relationships.
  • differentiation with minimal prep.
  • oral language development
  • nurturing a growth mindset
  • critical thinking.

Your students will love them, and they will build classroom community.

Talk about a win! Win! Win!

Share an idea of something that students would love to count in a collection. Let’s support each other.

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