Are You Using Your Counting Straws Wrong?

What I've been using counting straws wrong?

Do you have a set of these small counting straws in your classroom calendar area? Do you dutifully add a straw to the pocket chart every day counting the days of school? Do you immediately bundle the straws into groups of ten on every tenth day and then a group of one hunderd on the hundredth day of school? That's what these straws are for isn't it?

Well... not really.

The problem is that using the counting straws in this way is pretty meaningless for your students. It doesn't help them gain an understanding of the place value behind our number system and if you asked a student why the straws are bundled they would probably answer, "I don't know. That's just what we do."

But there's an easy way to fix the way you use these straws that will develop your student's number sense much more effectively...

Don't bundle the straws.

I mean it. Don't do it. Tell the students that you will be using these straws to count how many days you have been in school and then begin counting. 

Let the pile of straws become unmanageable. Let it take a long time to count. Loose count sometimes. And then one day, in front of the students, let yourself get fed up with those stupid, stupid straws. Tell your students, "I'm tired of counting these straws. It takes too long and I loose count and then have to start over! There must be an easier way to count these straws!" Then let your students come up with a better way of counting. If they tell you to count by twos, wrap up bundles of twos and try it. How much faster could you count? Is there a faster way? Sooner or later your students are going to tell you, "Let's put them in a group of ten and count by tens!" This will provide much more meaning to this activity and give students ownership of it. Then, when someone asks them why they put the straws into bundles of ten they will know exactly why!


Here are some fun math activities that students love!

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