Buckets, counters and the maths curriculum…

Our latest whole staff professional learning was based around mathematics. Our amazing maths leader introduced to a place value sound count activity. The activity involves using a tin bucket and some heavy counters (heavy enough to make a noise). First using three different colours of counters you create

sound count

 three separate stacks and give the counters different values. The idea is then that the students have to closely look at the stack of counters and (without counting) make a reasonable estimate of the total value of counters. We instruct the students to estimate using a range which really gets them to think about upper and lower limits of what they are looking at. We used the estimate-calculate-evaluate system for students:

Estimate – to form an idea of the range of the answer.

Calculate – to discover the exact answer.

Evaluate – share reasoning and effective strategies.


After estimating the count is then made. The counters are dropped into the bucket and students choral count the running total into the bucket. After some healthy discussion each year level in our school had a close at look at the Ausvels curriculum maps for mathematics. You can download any of the primary school standards below:

Curriculum Map Foundation

Curriculum Map Level 1

Curriculum Map Level 2

Curriculum Map Level 3

Curriculum Map Level 4

Curriculum Map Level 5

Curriculum Map Level 6


We then made adaptations to this activity to suit all levels of the maths curriculum from foundation to year six (and a bit above!) Below is a list of the some of the ideas we came up with. What this session really highlights is the incredible ability of open ended tasks to be adapted for all levels of the curriculum. With just one activity in less than twenty minutes we had an abundance of activity’s suitable for all levels of kids.

Some of the ideas:

  • Basic estimating and counting by ones.
  • Counting by two’s, five’s and tens
  • Counting by 50’s, 100’s and thousands.
  • Assigning counters financial value and counting with money.
  • Counting with decimals, fractions and percentages.
  • Assigning some of the counters negative values to help students understand the concept of negative numbers.
  • Using the activity to reinforce, measurement concepts, length weight etc.
  • Even measuring angles by assigning each counter a degrees value.

What other adaptations could you make to this activity?

Do you know any other open ended tasks that you have used that could be adapted to all levels?

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