A set of digit cards from 0 to 9, enough sets for one per learner.
In teaching mathematics we often follow the objectives from the Primary Strategy. They give guidance on the numbers we should be working with in different year groups e.g. in the counting and understanding number section, Year 3 should read, write and order numbers to at least 1000.
Often we stick to that guidance and the limit of the numbers given. I wanted to find out whether the children had a ‘feel’ and understanding of ‘big numbers’ in terms of size, and also if they were confident and enjoyed playing around with these numbers.
Do I give the opportunity to explore ‘big’ numbers or do I stick to those listed in the framework?
What I did:
As part of the oral and mental starter with a class of Year 3 children I used the digit cards in order to let them ‘play around with’ big numbers and to see just how confident they were at making millions numbers and talking about them. Each child set out their digit cards in order from 0 to 9. As a warm up, I asked a series of questions from simple to more complex e.g. show me the number 4, now the number three less than four, eight more than that, double your number, double it again.
What other questions could I ask to encourage the use of mental calculation strategies? Should I target particular children with certain questions?
I then asked them to place their number in front of them: 36, I called out the following instructions: make your number read 236, 2 367, 52 367, 852367 and finally 8 523 674. All the children could do this easily because they were just listening to me saying the new number and placing the new digit I said in the correct position. They really enjoyed making the millions number.
Will my lower attainers need support in this?
We had a discussion on millions – was that a lot or not? I asked them where they would find millions of things and they came back with responses such as sand on the beach, stars in the sky, money in the Bank of England, blades of grass on the field, germs in the toilet, bricks that make up the school buildings.
This proved to me that they had as good a concept of millions as I did. It also gave them a sense of self esteem in that they were working with really big numbers!
I then asked them to swap various digits for example the eight and the two and then to tell me whether the new number is bigger or smaller than the previous number and roughly how much. They were really good at this, saying about six million. I asked more complex questions that involved numbers in the hundreds and tens of thousands positions. Some of them could answer these, which both surprised and delighted me.
This activity was really great to do with children. They all participated at varying levels depending on their attainment. I was easily able to target my questioning to the different attainment levels of all the children in the class from simple questions such ‘show me three, now show me one more than three’ to more challenging e.g. ‘what number is 10 thousand lower’ to suit the higher attaining children.
I was amazed at how well they did, they were absorbed and enthusiastic. Some of them answered questions that I would have never dreamed of asking in normal situations. I definitely think that on occasions I put a ceiling on their learning – one I am trying hard to lift these days!! I now ask more challenging questions all the time just to see how they respond.
I have since tried this with Years 2 through to 6 and it is amazing how quickly many of them are able to read the whole seven digit numbers. It gives them a real sense of achievement. I’d recommend everyone has a go at this!
How could I do this in Reception or Year 1?