Counting large numbers; A Kindergarten counting inquiry

Yesterday, at tidying-up time, I overheard the following conversation between Trenton, Nikhil, Hal and Leander as they tidied plastic tiles into the tile tub.

  • Leander: Here is so many!
  • Nikhil: Yeah, one hundred!
  • Leander: I think one thousand.
  • Nikhil: No, it’s more. It’s ten hundred. And even a hundred hundred.
  • Hal: A thousand hundred.
  • Trenton: A million.
  • Hal: A billion.
  • Leander: A million hundred.
  • Nikhil: No, because million is the biggest.
  • Trenton: But nothing is biggest because numbers never stop. They always not stop counting because always more
  • Nikhil: But not more than a million.
  • Leander: I think two hundred 0r one hundred
  • Hal: But we can’t count because there is too many.
  • Nikhil: But we can’t count.  How we can count?  Too many.
  • Trenton: But we can still count.

As I listend to the conversation it occurred to me that there were several possibilities for further exploration: the infinite nature of numbers; place value; estimation; counting large numbers. I have observed that recently quite a few of the children have shown a particular interest in counting large numbers so I decided to follow that line of inquiry.

At our next meeting, I told the children that I had noticed that many of them seemed interested in counting big numbers, and I wondered if we should make some time to explore this more.  The children responded enthusiastically.  ”I LOVE to count!”, said Rika. “Me too!”, rang out a chorus from other children. For this engagement I had decided that I would group the children, rather than having them choose their own partners.  I paired some children with partners of a similar ability and paired others in mixed ability groups, depending on the children’s social and developmental needs.  I decided not to give the children much direction at this stage, and to observe carefully to see what they did.  I was particularly interested to see what counting strategies the children would use when faced with a large number of objects (between 100 and 1000).  In math circle times, we have been skip counting in twos and tens. I wondered if any of the children would transfer those skills to a hands-on counting task.

Throughout their inquiries the children were engaged and focused.  There was a purposeful hum of activity as the children went about their business, trying out strategies, encountering logistical problems and coming up with new strategies to overcome those problems.  This will be an ongoing inquiry. The adults in the team have been engaged in conversations about how we can best support the children in their inquiries. We wondered at what point we should intervene and model the strategy of grouping in tens. For now, the children are engaged and motivated and are clearly learning so I see no need to intervene. Finding out for oneself is so much more powerful than being told.



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