So, the idea was to see if my second graders could apply what we have learned about place value and groups of ten to counting a large collection. The results were interesting.

I gave each pair of students a bin full of math materials. Each bin had over a hundred pieces in it and when they heard the task there were a lot of surprised gasps. Count all this? It sounded impossible, but they were game. The instructions I gave were these:

Talk to your partner about the best way to count everything in your box and then count everything in your box.


As they got started, I walked around and observed. When I saw one of my usually strong partners begin counting by ones, moving each block from one pile to the next, I let him get to about 30 and then I interrupted him, trying to get him to lose count. Success. One bright student remembered counting by twos from the first grade so immediately convinced his partner to stack the blocks in pairs. When I stopped in to hear their strategy I added “Oh, did I forget to tell you that you can only use your two desks? I hope you don’t run out of room!” He looked questioningly at his partner with a “what now?” sort of face.

I let the struggle go on for a little while and when I noticed a few partners had worked out that they could stack the objects in groups of ten, I stopped everyone and asked a few teams to share their counting strategies. Then, I asked them to talk to their partners about which strategy they thought would be most efficient. (We’ve been working on that vocabulary word.) After listening to each other’s ideas, almost all teams started using the groups of 10 strategy. A quick conference with the one rebellious partnership revealed some miscommunication and partnership discord. Easily remedied.

Here’s some of the work:


Before clean up time, all the partners had successfully counted their boxes. Some had 120 items, a few had over 300. I can’t wait to see their faces when I tell them I forgot to write down their counts so we need to take inventory again. After all, practice makes proficient.


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