Learning, Math, Saskatchewan Curricula

Subitizing- A Fundamental Skill for Primary Mathematicians

Subitizing is the ability to instantly see how many in a small collection of items without counting.  Dots on a die, shapes on a playing card, number of fingers held up on a hand, are all examples of subitizing in action.  In order to subitize successfully students need to see the whole as a collection of objects as well as the individual units.  Subitizing is considered to be a fundamental skill for supporting students understanding of number and ability to perform number operations.

In the primary years students should be given regular and consistent opportunities to subitize in order to build their skills, improve number sense and lay the foundation for future mathematical learning.  In kindergarten numbers to 5 should be focused on for instant recognition.  Once students are familiar with familiar representations of 1 to 5, larger collections can be used to encourage students part-part-whole thinking.   For example, on the card below students may instantly recognize a three and a four and then add the numbers together to know that there is a collection of seven dots on the card.

dot card

As the collections get larger students can be encouraged to use their estimation skills to think about “how many” and “how do you know”.  Our Saskatchewan Curriculum refers to this fundamental skill through several outcomes from Kindergarten to Grade 2:

  • Kindergarten- NK.2 Recognize, at a glance, and name familiar arrangements of 1 to 5 objects, dots, or pictures.
  • Grade 1- N1.2 Recognize, at a glance, and name familiar arrangements of 1 to 10 objects, dots, and pictures
  • Grade 2- N2.1 Demonstrate understanding of whole numbers to 100 (concretely, pictorially, physically, orally, in writing, and symbolically) by: 
    • representing (including place value)
    • describing skip counting
    • differentiating between odd and even numbers
    • estimating with referents
    • comparing two numbers
    • ordering three or more numbers.

This video is an excellent example of a kindergarten teacher who is using Quick Images to build on her students subitization skills, and create opportunities for mathematical conversation.

subitizing video

Information about Subitizing

Subitizing-What is it? Why Teach it?

Pinterest Board on Subitizing

Resources to support teaching Subitizing

Dot Cards and Ten Frames

Sparklebox Dot Cards

Reading, Science, Teaching and Instruction

Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education

Children are born with a sense of wonder starts the moment they open their eyes and begin to make sense of the many sights, tastes, sounds and smells around them. As they get older they begin to speak and that sense of wonder is often articulated in one word which they use over and over again… WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why does the dog bark? Why are we going to the store? Why? Why? Why?

When those same children first come to school in kindergarten they often bring with them this same enthusiasm, quest for answers and wonder. Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school.

In our current Saskatchewan curricula inquiry is the heart of each document. From ELA to math to science to social studies teachers are being asked to foster a sense of inquiry in their students as they discover and uncover what each discipline has to offer. For myself as a primary teacher I saw inquiry as living in the wonder that my students brought into the classroom each day. Through conscious teaching, careful planning and willingness to wonder myself I could foster, encourage, and facilitate opportunities for wonder in and outside the four walls of my classroom. Here are some ideas that I found quite helpful as well as some new ones to help build and maintain a culture of wonder in your classroom:

Wonder Wall

A place where group questions can be modeled, recorded, shared, and encouraged. As students discover answers to their questions they can be crossed off and more can be added. Another option is to have students write their questions on sticky notes that can be placed on the wall. When we were learning about the rainforest this wall took the shape of a giant palm tree. The new learnings were placed on palm fronds and questions were posted beside the tree.

Wonder of the Week

Posting a wonder of the week can initiate discussions, thinking and more questions. The questions need not have an answer. The goal is not to answer every question but create a culture of wonder. Fermi questions are a great source for thinking and discussion.


Wonder Words

Using wonder words as sentence starters can encourage student’s sense of wonder. These words can be used for written and oral communication.

  • I wonder
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Do
  • If
  • Can
  • Why
  • How

Wonder Centre

This centre can be a collection of objects carefully chosen objects which can fit in with current themes in the classroom. Natural objects work well and create opportunities for students to use many scientific skills such as observing, measuring, classifying, predicting and inference making.

Possible ways to record thinking at the Wonder Centre:

  • Wonder Journal
  • Wonder cards
  • Observation templates
  • Sentence starters
  • Science Notebook

Possible Objects for a Wonder Centre:

  • Natural objects (rocks, soil, plants, shells…)
  • Artifacts
  • Pictures
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Magnets
  • Rulers
  • Balance scales
  • Microscopes
  • Tape measures
  • Wonder Bottles – sealed pop bottles full of liquids and other items like glitter. These allow students to see how liquids mix, or don’t as well as how items can float or sink on the liquid. I used to make my collection with water and oil, corn syrup, pancake syrup, and salt water.

I know this list is incomplete but it is a start and really that is the first thing you need to do to create a classroom of wonder and inquiry for your students… be willing to start. If you have other ideas of ways you create wonder and inquiry in your classroom I would love to hear them.

Recommended Professional resource to explore – A Place for Wonder by Georgina Heard and Jennifer McDonough