Today I want to write about one of the simple ways my colleague Grace and I engaged our students in playful counting. One of the significant things I have realized after reading the research around student adaptive pedagogy is that our students are not counting enough, but that they don’t need more practice with rote counting. Students need to see counting as a powerful tool in which they can and want to experience their world.
Measurement was one of the ways we were able to engage the students in meaningful math experiences that allowed them to use counting to understand their world. Our students loved measuring the things around them. One of the most straightforward stations we did involved having the students use different manipulatives to measure things. Something important to realize before you try this with your students is that linked counters will be very different for the students then discrete counters. It is fascinating to watch how the students use the discrete counters when they measure. Developing the ability to think with quantities that are continuous (linked blocks) and discrete contribute to how a child forms a rich foundation in number. Both counters are essential but plan for some extra time in your debrief with the students if they are using discrete counters because they will use them differently.
In first grade I had the students measure the room, items from their desk, or pictures I printed. Then they wrote about their measurement experience in their math journals. I loved using math journals! It was such a simple way for them to record their experiences. I am realizing more and more how meaningful and significant it is for students when they register an experience. In a child’s mind, they have to create a mental image of the recent experience before they can record it (by writing or drawing). This is a critical process that involves reflection and is foundational in the students’ construction of a number concept.
In Kindergarten Grace had students go to the measuring station twice a week almost every week. She found dollar items that fit a current theme or brought things from home. One of my favorites was that at Thanksgiving she brought kitchen tools for the students to measure. Students would talk about having those at their house too! It was a bridge between the world of school and home. We want students to go home and want to use their math tools of counting and measuring to explore their homes. Then the math is something they choose to do for themselves, not have to do for school.