Counting Coins on a 100 Chart

I’ve been reading a phenomenal book about teaching math using a strengths-based approach. We often look at only what studentsย can’t do, ignoring the strengths that they have. It reminded me of a great story about counting coins!

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Back when I was an instructional coach, a 2nd-grade teacher burst into my room to tell me what one of her amazing mathematicians had come up with all on his own. Sean was counting coins and doing exactly what he had been taughtโ€”he grouped like coins together and began by counting the quarters. The counting part just wasn’t working out for him, though. He was having a hard time switching from skip-counting by quarters to dimes to nickels, etc. Who could blame him? That’s a tough skill.

The teacher wandered off to help another student, and when she came back she was amazed and delighted by what she saw. Sean had pulled out his hundred chart and placed the first quarter on the number 25, the second quarter on the number 50, the first dime on 60, etc. until he had counted the collection of coins.

As he explained his strategy to her, another kiddo nearby, who was also having a hard time counting money, was listening in. Guess what? Sean’s strategy made sense to him, too!! Funny thing is, I had seen this strategy at a workshop, but Sean came up with it himself.

I wanted to hear the strategy from Sean, so I pulled him out in the hall and he walked me through it with all the confidence of an old pro. Like, “Duh, what part of this don’t you get?” You can see just a hint of it in the picture, but he is grinning from ear to ear. What a powerful experience for Sean!

counting coins

It would be easy to think of what Sean couldn’t do. He couldn’t count coins in the traditional sense. And often, unfortunately, that’s all we’d see. But think of the math strengths Sean displayed. He used a familiar tool in a new and unexpected way. He showed perseverance. He was able to communicate his strategy so well that another student understood it. He demonstrated a positive disposition toward solving a problem. Those are all powerful strengths that we can build on!

Think your kiddos don’t have their own strategies? Think again! Give them the tools and the opportunity and you WILL be amazed by what they come up with.

Math fever…catch it!!

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  1. I thought of this randomly last year. I taught money for 10years and it never dawned on me. My teachers thought I was either nuts or genius. Glad to hear I am not alone.

    1. I’ve used this strategy with a variety of special needs students when I taught a self-contained classes. Once I switched to general ed, my first graders caught on quickly to this strategy. there are two modifications I’ve used when necessary that have triggered many, “I get it!” smiles. Covering up every number except for #1 with a ‘flap,’ allows them to focus on counting a spaces appropriate for each coin when the numbers distract them from doing so. They lift the last flap they are on to see the actual amount. A second strategy is similar. Stamp each of the previously mentioned ‘flaps’ with a one cent stamp. This helps them understand each space represents one stamp. Creating the flaps can be a little time consuming but very much worth that “I get it!” smile!

  2. I love using this strategy when teaching my students how to count money. I like that it provides a visual for those who need it but also allows for counting on using a concrete object like the 100s chart. Great story.

  3. Well Sean you made my day! I teach second grade math and hope some of my students come up with their own strategy like you did. You are my Math Hero today.

  4. I LOVE this! I got chill bumps reading it! Sean may have been having a hard time, but he had a strong enough number sense to find another way. He leaned on something he knew to help him learn something he didn’t know. You can see that the 100’s chart is going to live in his head in the future. What a victory for him! Kudos to his current and past teachers who helped to instill this number sense in Sean!

    Teaching With Moxie

  5. After 14 years of teaching, I finally thought of that strategy a few years ago! That’s awesome that a student discovered it before being shown!

  6. I love it! GO SEAN! I am going to teach addition with money to my kids using this strategy in the future.

    Sean = Future math teacher, or maybe problem solving genius??

    Teacher Kirra

  7. Thank you for the Freebie. My class last year was the first to embrace the 100’s chart as a math strategy, but didn’t use it for money. Hoping this year, more kidlets will add it to their repertoire, and, like Sean, figure out how many ways it CAN be used. Well done, Sean!

  8. Thanks for sharing Sean’s idea. I was impressed that Sean kept on working on his own and came up with a great idea that worked well. Way to hang in there Sean!

  9. What a great story, Donna! Sean’s solution shows how deep and wide his understanding really is! I was also impressed by the fact that his teachers gave him time and opportunity to explain his thinking – so important for Sean and for the others who then latched onto his strategy. Thanks for sharing!


  10. Awesome! Go Sean! I’m so glad that he has an inspiring teacher like you. Was he able to share with the entire class?

  11. Awesome! Go Sean! I’m so glad that he has an inspiring teacher like you. Was he able to share with the entire class?

    1. I can’t take credit for being his teacher, Asia. His teacher shared it with me, and I shared it with you!

  12. I love this idea and plan on showing it to my second graders tomorrow using the whiteboard camera. I think it makes perfect sense and I keep wondering why I never thought of it myself!


    1. I don’t know about common core. I know they wouldn’t be allowed on our state test in Texas unless the student had special accommodations. But I think if the kiddos use them enough, they will have a strong image in their head of the chart and it will deepen their understanding.

  13. I think it’s awesome that this little guy figured that out on his own! I actually teach that strategy to my whole class so I can help my firsties avoid the headaches of struggling to keep up with the coins. Those students who catch on quick only use it a couple of times before they are able to just coint the coins. But for my more struggling students, it’s a godsend as long as they know their coins.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Shibahn. I think you’re right that for most it’s only a brief stepping stone, but I love the mathematical connections going on. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I love this story! We begin teaching money on Monday and I was looking for more strategies to teach money. This is a great one! Thanks! Way to go Sean!

  15. I am not a teacher but I am a grandparent of two, one a grade 1 & the other in grade 4. I love this story & know this will not only be very helpful but will also be fun, thank you for sharing.

  16. I am teaching this skill in the next few weeks, can’t wait to share this strategy. Thanks to you and your student.

  17. What I love about this story is the direct link to Common Core. As you said, if you give them the tools and a rick task, they come up with a strategy. Calling it Sean’s strategy is perfect and motivating for the students. Launching money next week and I will start with this task. thanks.

    1. Yes, Sean was so proud of the post! I’m glad it’s something you can use in your classroom. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Way to go Sean!! Very clever:)
    I have been using visuals that can add to what Sean is doing, with my first graders. Using different transparent file folders, I choose a color per coin, for coins nickel, dime, quarter. (For pennies, I use transparency chips.) I measure against the 1-100 number chart my first graders use. I cut the strips that cover the value. For example, a nickel would be a strip of blue, that covers five number spaces. A dime would be a yellow strip, covering 10 number spaces. I put a supply for each student who would benefit in a plastic sandwich bag for easy distribution. It works!

  19. Brilliant! I love this strategy. As a parent of a child who struggles with number sense, counting coins has been a real challenge. I think we have a solution. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Amazing strategy! Just last week one of my colleagues shared that her students were struggling with counting coins. Using a hundreds chart is a great solution!

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