playful inquiry with numbers

Posted on: November 13th, 2014 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

I spent a delightful morning in Stephanie Merrick’s Kindergarten class at Hamilton Elementary on Wednesday. This was my first time meeting these students so we began with a quick little introduction to subitizing – I flipped over dot cards (dots arranged in various patterns) and asked them to take a brain picture and without counting, tell me how many dots there were.

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On the second round, we paused and I had students describe how they “saw” the dot patterns. For example, for this quantity of dots,┬ástudents shared that they saw this as 4 and 1, 2 and 3 as well as 2 and 2 and 1.

To follow up on the concepts of subitizing and decomposition, one of the provocations presented to the students was to find all the ways to make 5. Students were provided with a numeral 5 as a reminder and large gems and cork mats to work on. Presenting the task as a question such as “Can you find all the ways to make 5?” promotes investigation and playful inquiry.

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At another table, a five frame “game” of building and changing was presented. Students rolled a die and then filled the five-frame up with that quantity (we problem-solved as a group what we would do for 6). The student then rolled the die again and either builded on their existing quantity (adding) or removed some gems (subtracting). This process can involve visualizing, counting on, subtilizing, decomposing – all important early numeracy concepts.


As time went on, I noticed students adapting the task to make it more suited to their needs. Some students worked as “teams” and combined their five frames and rolled two dice. Some students cleared their five frames after each roll, working on their counting and representing quantity each time rather than building and changing.


At another table, we simply put out a basket of dominoes and a tray of numeral cards. I gave a few prompts as to what students might do with the dominoes (matching, making a train, etc), The first group of students to settle in at this table were content to build.


Stephanie, the classroom teacher, sat down with the students at one point and prompted them to match the dot patterns on the dominoes, realizing that many of the children may not have played with dominoes before.


This led to some students doing their own individual matching of the patterns and connecting the numerals to the dot patterns.

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The last table we presented a variety of materials – pebbles, gems, open ten frames, dice, ten frame cards and wooden numerals. At my first pass by, a little girl wanted to show me her “Counting Fun House” and explained that she made a house and then rolled the die and that was the number of objects she put in the middle of the house. When I returned to the table a few minutes later, she mentioned the house was getting full and she needed to move the walls to fit more things in.


The students were not provided with any direct prompts for this table and it was fascinating to see the different ways the students used the materials.

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The students played with ordering the numerals, representing quantities, using ten frames to match quantities, counting, combining and building on five.

In the next few weeks, Stephanie will be documenting how her students have experienced the materials and I hope to share some of those glimpses into her classroom here!


One Response

  1. Maggie Lo says:

    Hi Janice,

    Thanks for visiting my daughter’s class and teaching the students early numeracy skills! Your blog opens up opportunities for conversation with my girl about what she learns at school. I really appreciate your support and collaboration with Stephanie.

    Best regards,
    Maggie Lo