Exploring Early Numeracy Through Inquiry

Area(s) of Focus: math, kindergarten
Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2

The Exploring Early Numeracy Through Inquiry project examined the development of early number concepts in K-2. We deepened our understanding of designing a mathematically rich environment to support exploration of number concepts at school and home.

The Exploring Early Numeracy Through Inquiry project brought together educators from two schools to examine the development of early number concepts in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. As a team, we deepened our understanding of designing a mathematically rich inquiry-based environment to support exploration of number concepts. We utilized the board-developed Early Numeracy Screening tool and Leaps and Bounds to gather project data that drove our initial instructional decisions and ongoing assessment for learning practices. We focused on learning instructional strategies to develop conceptual understanding of numbers and the integration of intentionally designed learning centres. This was supported by using a variety of research-based instructional practices such as guided instruction, use of math manipulatives, pedagogical documentation, and meaningful open-ended tasks and asking intentional questions to provoke student thinking. To further our learning, various pedagogical and instructional resources were accessed (professional reading materials, webinars, professional learning opportunities). We also fostered the home-school connection to encourage developing early number concepts through the development of take home bags offering opportunities for families to engage in and enjoy math together.

Team Members

  • Susan Aide

    Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

  • Karen McPherson

    Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

  • Honey Sweet

    Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

  • Christine Barlow

    Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

  • Teresa Hadley

    Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • We deepened our understanding of how students develop early number concepts through inquiry and play
  • We used data to support instructional decisions as well as student and educator learning (assessment for, as and of learning)
  • We increased our ability to effectively utilize manipulatives to support the mathematical processes including problem-solving, reasoning and proving, representation and communication
  • We collaborated to strengthen working relationships and build support networks within and between schools
  • We designed take home math bags to engage children and their families in math play at home
  • We planned for a family numeracy event to be held in the fall


  • We shared learning and resources through the use of shared Google Drive folders

Activities and Resources

  • We gathered assessment for learning data using our board-created Early Numeracy Screening Tool and Leaps and Bounds (varied by grade)
  • We used instructional resources to build our content and pedagogical knowledge (What To Look For, Number Talks)
  • We watched webinars to support our learning of content knowledge
  • We gathered and created resources for classroom use based on our new learning and assessment data
  • We co-planned and co-taught to try new strategies and to notice and name student learning 
  • We created engaging take home math games and activities to share with families
  • We planned a family math event to be hosted in the fall to engage families in meaningful and authentic math tasks and share various technology-related resources to support at-home learning

Unexpected Challenges

  • After submitting the application, one of the educators received a grade assignment different from the one at the time of the proposal. This shifted her grade from kindergarten/Grade 1 to Grade 1. This then encouraged another team member to join us who had a Grade 1/2 classroom. Thus, our focus expanded from kindergarten to K-2.
  • The two schools have very different start and end times which made half-day release time difficult. The administrators supported our learning by providing an extra half-day to make one of our learning team meetings a full-day. With the support of our administration, we were creative with which days of the cycle we scheduled our half-day sessions so that the member travelling to the other school would have time to do so in order to be present for the full half-day.
  • The creation of the take home bags was a success and was positively received by most children and families. Finding a system to efficiently manage the return, maintenance and exchange of these bags has proven to be somewhat challenging. In some classes, there was some difficulty with the return of a few bags. Although most have provided feedback about the experiences, a few did not provide information on the logs provided so data about the experience was not collected.
  • It is difficult to tell which instructional strategy had the greatest impact, however we know that the outcome of the changes we have made to our instruction and the addition of take home bags have positively impacted student achievement and attitudes about math.


Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • Exposure to numeracy through an inquiry- and play-based approach enhanced mathematical conversations and vocabulary development
  • By deepening our understanding of how students develop early number concepts, we have become more proficient at scaffolding the learning with precise and intentional materials and provocations
  • By strengthening students’ understanding of numbers and number sense skills, they have become more confident when approaching math. They are willing and excited to share their ideas and listen to the ideas of others.
  • Students are not afraid to make mistakes. They know that there isn’t just one answer, there are many ways to see and think about math.
  • We noted an increase in student achievement due to our changing/refining instructional practices.  Students are communicating their thinking more clearly and are demonstrating a deep understanding of numbers.  
  • Below is anecdotal documentation to support this:

“We have been working with coins. The K’s are using their number pattern knowledge to count same coins like nickels and dimes. The first graders have been counting the value of mixed coins.

Today I showed them an online game that was a lemonade stand selling cups of lemonade for X amount of cents. For example, ‘I would like two cups of lemonade’ at 10 cents each. We were working the solutions orally as a group using various strategies.

One of the problems was four cups of lemonade at seven cents each. We counted four groups of seven cents and came up with 28 cents. The next problem was eight cups of lemonade at six cents each. Student C thought about it and said, ‘It’s one cent less than last time. We just need to take away a cent for each cup and then it’s double the cups after that.’ So using his idea, we took away four cents from last time (28 – 4 = 24) and then doubled it (24 + 24 = 48). Isn’t that amazing that he totally has the concepts! I was blown away and told him that he taught me something new. I’m so conditioned to multiply 8 x 6, I would never think to solve the problem the way he did. I’m amazed that even though I am learning along with the students, it is not holding them back from getting the new, deeper concepts.”

  • By fostering a home-school connection, numeracy skills were developed during authentic experiences. We noted increased engagement and achievement in children who actively engaged in take home bags. We have also noted an increased enjoyment in math with family involvement.


We have informally shared our learning with colleagues and will continue to share our learning with new colleagues as we collaborate with them next year. Each educator on the team will have new grade partners next year and will have the opportunity to mobilize our learning as we work with others and continue to learn and refine our practices.

Some educators are also joining a board math lead team and will have the opportunity to share learning with educators from other schools.

Project Evaluation

Overall, our project was a success. We noted significant improvement in math scores and a positive influence on attitudes about math. Math can be fun and it isn’t all about memorization and drill work. We were excited to learn with our students and see the impact our new understandings about number development were having on our students. We are still left with some questions or wonderings to explore. For example, a few children are still using less efficient strategies such as counting by one and we need to find new ways to support these children to using more efficient strategies.

Our take home bags were a fun extension to our classroom learning. For the most part, families were engaged with this learning and provided positive feedback. Generally, children played the games and engaged in the activities in the take home bags numerous times while they had them. We believe that repeated play is beneficial and received a lot of information and feedback from families. Math words like strategy, challenging (or not), and co-operation were written in the log sheets. It was interesting to hear the different preferences of children and their families. For example, some families enjoyed a certain game because it was a game of strategy while others liked it less because it was less about numbers. It was a refreshing change to see that not only reading was sent home for families, but math play as well. As we continue our learning, we will add to the collection of take home bags to increase the number and variety. We will also be conscious of how instructions are written to ensure they are open and inclusive.


Resources Used

Parrish, Sherry. (2010). Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.

Lawson, Alex. (2015). What To Look For: Understanding and Developing Student Thinking in Early Numeracy. Pearson Education Canada.