investigating number with a Kindergarten class at Diefenbaker

Posted on: March 8th, 2015 by jnovakowski

I spent two mornings in one of the kindergarten classes at Diefenbaker last week. The class has two job-share teachers, Sarah Regan and Jaclyn Cruz. Although they have not been a part of our professional learning experiences around Reggio-inspired mathematics, they were interested in trying out one of our project kits. They have had the number kit for February and March.

On Tuesday when I arrived, Sarah had several provocations already laid out on the tables for the students to investigate as they began their morning. I did a short number talk with the class using ten frames, to focus on the big idea of decomposing and the different “ways” to make a number and asked the students to focus on this idea as the investigated the materials.

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Sarah had put out long strips of newsprint paper with the wooden numerals, dominoes and crayons.

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The students enjoyed findings all the dominoes that “equalled” the number and various collections were left around the table for other students to add to.

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The students were also given a direct prompt to find ways to make 7 using glass gems. Some of the students chose to make math books to record their findings in.


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For one student, he began recording the numbers to 7 and then wanted to keep going, with the support of a classmate. Although he could count to 20, he didn’t ¬†know how to write the numerals from 10 up and was very motivated to learn to I watched his classmate model how to make each numeral for him with his fingers or by putting wooden numbers in front of him to copy.



Ten frames, dice and pebbles were also presented to the students and Sarah had written out the instructions for the game “race to 10” for the students to play.


The students struggled a bit with the materials. Pebbles were dumped, glass gems were on the floor and a few of the wooden numerals got written on with crayon. In hindsight, it was maybe all too much at once for these students and that maybe introducing one type of materials or task at a time was needed. Each class is different and how and when provocations are presented needs to be responsive to the students.

On Thursday, Jaclyn already also had provocations set up for the class, using materials from the kit as well as from the classroom. This time, we did a short number talk together with dot cards, looking for combinations of dots within dot patterns. I modelled the dot pattern for 4 that was on the card (the regular dice dot pattern) using glass gems on a mat and then together, we thought about how we could move the four gems around to make different patterns but conserve the quantity of four. Based on what we had noticed on Tuesday, this seemed to be something the students needed further experience with. Some of the students wanted to count one-to-one while others saw their representations in parts.

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One little guy was determined to count out 100 gems. When I asked him how I would know that there were 100 he replied that I had to count them. I asked if he could arrange the gems in another way so it would be easier to know that there was a 100 represented but he was not sure about this. This was a large quantity!


The teachers had decided to put out a game of shake and spill using two-sided counters. Based on Tuesday’s time together they thought the students needed more structured tasks to stay engaged and focused.

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We had a visiting teacher from Vancouver come by the class on Thursday and her comment was that what she was noticing wasn’t so different from “math centres” and we talked about that together because she was right in this case…just replacing traditional plastic math manipulative and laminated work mats with glass gems, pebbles and cork mats and setting them out as “centres” or “stations” is a starting place but does not reflect the practices we aiming for. How are we provoking thinking? How are we inspiring inquiry? Finding ways to make the practices and our intentions more visible needs to be considered as we broaden our project.

In reflecting with the two classroom teachers on the time spent in the classroom, I am thinking about the conditions that are needed in a classroom environment for the type of Reggio-inspired practices in mathematics that we are working towards:

-a stance of inquiry, wonder and curiosity that has been nurtured and valued in the classroom

-an understanding what it means to be a learner

-a respect and appreciation for materials

-students’ ability to engage with materials independently or with a peer/small group and to share and collaborate with materials

-students’ capacity to listen to each other, build on each others’ ¬†thinking and communicate and discuss their mathematical thinking

Most children just don’t arrive at school being able to do all of the above, but they are capable of this. We need to model, coach, teach, moderate, facilitate, support and nurture these competencies and habits of mind in our students so that they can engage in the deep thinking we believe they are capable of.

So our Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Inquiry Project is not just about mathematical provocations with lovely materials. It is deep professional learning and reflection, thinking about what we need to do as educators to support our students. Lots of thinking and learning together as we move forward.


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