I love September for many reasons, but one very important one is I love the part of the year that is focused on the establishing of community, friendships, and exploring *how* we will learn together. After being a math coach at my school for several years, I returned to a classroom position this year as a kindergarten teacher. I have missed the creating of community and routines, and just three days into the school year I am in love with my class and remembering how powerful it is to build a new community from scratch with kids.

My kindergarteners begin and end their day with Explore (which I also wrote about here and here). Even in our math workshop has many of elements of Explore during this part of the year. We focus on working together, communicating with one another, and figuring out how we can investigate our questions.

Today I got the chance to have an impromptu math exchange with a few of my new friends as they played with some interlocking elephant toys.

“Look at all those elephants you have lined up!” I said as I sat down on the floor with my kids.

“It’s like a hundred of them!” yelled Sebastian.

“Is it?” I asked. “How could we check?” Just introducing this kind of “Really? How do you know?” question can push children in their thinking in a low-risk kind of way. I’m not insisting they do something, not assigning a project. I’m just being curious and encouraging them to be curious as well.

Luna, who was working alongside Sebastian, started counting the elephants right away. Her one to one correspondence wasn’t perfect so I encouraged her to slow down and point to each elephant, counting with her and guiding her fingers at time. Sebastian counted along with us, watching our pointing. After about twenty they no longer knew the names of the numbers, but I supported them in their counting. The task was beyond their counting ability, but when I helped them they joined in some with the sing-songyness of the counting. And more importantly, they understood the concept that we were approaching a large number.

“70! We have 70 elephants! And that’s not even a hundred!” they declared.

“Should we make a sign telling people that?” I asked. They were beyond thrilled as we got a sticky note and I helped them find seventy on a number grid in order to record it.

I know they’ll be back to those elephants tomorrow. They have important projects of their own to investigate. Questions to investigate (How many elephants will fit on the tape we use to line up on?) Planned math exchanges are very important, but in September, my focus is on building a community of mathematicians and creating strong routines. Nevertheless, I’m still having math exchanges everyday, all day. I’m finding ways to push their thinking as we learn to work and learn together.

How are you introducing informal math exchanges into your beginning of the year routine?

on September 9, 2011 at 3:16 am |Mr. PMoWonderful interaction or math exchange! I enjoyed reading this. Great way “to build a community of mathematicians.” I guarantee they will run to those elephants next day. And what a starting point for other activities, like counting in groups, and sets.

on October 7, 2011 at 8:03 am |Peggy AshbrookOne preK teacher of four-year-olds that I know has a regular count of the number of students present at the morning circle. The Job Chart lists who are the Counters of the Day. They walk around the circle and first count the number of girls, then the number of boys and then the number of all children. They have to remember to count themselves!

on October 8, 2011 at 10:04 pm |LoraleeWould you recommend your book for grade 4?

on October 9, 2011 at 9:55 am |kowedekindYes, I think even though the examples given are fro K-3 classrooms the structures of math workshop and math exchanges are important for all elementary grades. You can check out a full preview of the book at the Stenhouse website.

on October 10, 2011 at 6:58 amLoraleeThank you! I just finished ordering it!

on October 18, 2011 at 11:06 pm |AmyKassia,

After following your blog tour and getting responses from you, I decided to create math boxes (bags) and I just wanted to share this with you. Today, during some “free time” I gave the choice for students to read or write. One lone student came to me shortly after and asked if she could work in her math bag. Before I knew it, 7 other students asked to work from their math bag. It was awesome seeing the enjoyment they are getting from this independent exploration time, especially since we hadn’t had our math block yet and they knew they would have to work from it again. Also, I am slowly getting counting collections back from students and they are excited to begin this mathematical opportunity. Thanks for the inspiration!

on October 19, 2011 at 6:48 am |kowedekindAmy, how inspiring to hear about your classroom and how your students are taking ownership of and joy in their math. It can be amazing to see the changes that occur through math workshop in students feelings about math. Thanks for sharing.