When: at times you want to help teach counting (e.g., all the time)
Where: anywhere there's stuff to count
What we use: whatever is available, fingers if that's all we've got
Many of you have heard me say this before: "there are three kinds of mathematicians, those who can count and those who can't."
I never get tired of that (why?), so I should take the opportunity to publicly apologize to everyone who has (or will hear) me say it many times. Part of what lies behind the joke is how fundamental the basic counting skill seems to be for everything else in our standard math education curriculum. I've heard a high school-focused educator claim that many kids struggling at her level are really dealing with the lack of a firm grasp of one-to-one correspondence (a sub-skill for counting). If you really want to, you can see this skill highlighted as a foundation block in the US Common Core Standards: base skill level in counting and cardinality,
- start with 0. I make two balled fists and wiggle them when I say zero, unless I'm counting hands in which case I just say 0. The point is to make sure they realize 0 is also a number.
- be silly: this is a game for them kids, so feel free to make silly sounds and gestures.
- try to find things they can grab and move around as they count. My intuition is that the more of their body involved and the bigger the motion, the more they will remember.
- (optional) try counting in other languages. If you don't care which language, Chinese and Thai are good choices because of the logical naming system they employ (I think other Asian languages are similar).
When I tell the joke and say "count," I'm internally thinking about combinatorics. I have long felt a bit weak in this area, with anxiety that my counts were either leaving out cases or double counting somewhere. That's the real reason I like this joke so much, because the self-deprecation has a meaningful kernel of truth.