More Bang for your Buck: The Power of the Estimation Station

Time IS NOT on our side!

In a 1st grade planning session I was asked,”How do we fit it all in?”  I loved this question because it asked for a solution to problem we know exists. We collectively tackled this question and the fruits of our labor are as follows…

We talked about enduring understanding. What are the ideas and concepts we want our 1st graders to have at the end of the unit?

Knowing that these are not just unit goals, but end of the year expectations, we were hunting for an idea that gave us the most Bang for our Buck.  


We introduced students to The Estimation Station…

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 8.21.17 AM

Students were shown the jar and asked to estimate how many cubes?

No one was allowed to make an official estimate until Wednesday morning.  We found that the delay in official estimates made way for estimation strategies to surface.  This is something we’ll use again but we need to find a way to capture these thoughts.


Students made their estimates and dropped them in the bucket.  The results…


The “1002” at the top is actually 102. Nice little formative assessment piece:-)


Post-it’s in hand, we had students stand at the front of the class and place themselves in order from least to greatest….with no guidance!  Absolute pandemonium followed but we resisted the urge to help.

After 3 minutes of chaos we had students line up shoulder to shoulder and called out the number order. It looked something like this.


Ordering numbers…we have some work to do.

As we called out the numbers, students immediately wanted to start relocating themselves on our human number-line.  Who were we to stop them?

2 minutes later we called out the number order again.  This time it was great to see that all of the 20’s had grouped themselves together.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 8.49.21 AM

A small victory in a sea of numbers.

Students thought it was great idea to stick the Post-it on their head and on their shirt.  My thoughts on this…who cares?  Every student was on task and I like to put Post-its on my head, so who am I to judge.

We called the number order one final time and were glad to see progress. Perfect? Absolutely not, but lots of small successes for a first try.  The only thing we did to facilitate was pause the madness, read out the order of numbers, and ask, “what do you notice?” and “what do you want to change?”

What ordered chaos looks like in a first grade classroom.

What ordered chaos looks like in a first grade classroom.

Students turned in their Post-its, we sat at the carpet, and counted the cubes.

4 tens and 7 ones

4 tens and 7 ones

We went back and looked at our estimates:

  • Whose estimate was closest? Furthest?
  • Was your estimate more or less than 47?
  • How far was your estimate from 47?
  • Whose estimate are you closest to?

We asked students how we could sort our numbers.  From there we graphed their Post-its.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.17.56 AM

Each student came to the board and placed their estimate in the appropriate range.

When these 1st graders go home and parents ask, “So tell me what you did today in math class”, I hope they respond by saying:

  • we estimated
  • we ordered numbers
  • we compared numbers
  • we counted cubes
  • we sorted Post-its
  • we graphed our estimates

Sounds like we got our money’s worth out of math class today.

My Takeaways:

  • Andrew Stadel‘s voice reverberates in my brain and is always pushing me to incorporate more estimation.
  • “There isn’t enough time to get it all in” is a phrase that rings out in many of the planning sessions I attend.  I definitely agree with this statement, but I think we make it harder on ourselves when we turn learning into a checklist, and concepts are taught in isolation of one another.
  • This lesson was chalked full of ideas and concepts which took place in 45 minutes.
  • These integration ideas were the product of a collaborative effort…All of us are smarter than one of us.
  • Next week we’re going to have students build their estimates using linking cubes to explore the difference between the estimation and actual.
  • Letting go and having students order themselves without guidance is hard.  We have to trust the process, even in the messy times.
  • We found it weird that there were lots of 20s and 100s.  Seems like students were comfortable with these numbers. Why?
  • Only two guesses were within 20 cubes of the actual (32 & 50).  We need to fix this!
  • The possibilities to incorporate multiple ideas and concepts are limitless.  I’m hoping to get an estimation station up and running in a 3-5 classroom and see what types of math we can incorporate.
  • What would a human number line look like if the distance between estimates had to be proportional. Would it fit in a class? Hallway?

If you’re already using an estimation station, how can we make ours better?  Ideas? Thoughts?

About gfletchy

K-8 math consumer trying to listen and learn each day. Stay thirsty my friends!
This entry was posted in counting, Estimation, K-2, Making Math Accessible, Math Tools, Number Sense, Planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to More Bang for your Buck: The Power of the Estimation Station

  1. Sharon says:

    I always liked including Marilyn Burn’s strategy of counting out a few of the items in the estimation jar. For example, take 10 cubes or a small scoop (with smaller items in the estimating jar) and after students see (1) what is left in the estimating jar and (2) how many have been taken out, ask the students if they would change their estimate and if so, what their new estimate would be.

    • gfletchy says:

      Great suggestion Sharon! I love the idea of giving them a teaser. Any time we can get students to reevaluate their thinking/estimates the better off we’ll all be. I’ll definitely be folding this into the mix going forward. Thanks!

  2. howardat58 says:

    Popularity of 20 and 100 : Maybe the Georgia count to 120 has something to do with it.

    • gfletchy says:

      Possibly:-) I’m also thinking that it’s where most teachers end the rote counting process. “Alright….I want you to count to 20.” I don’t hear a lot of teachers asking students count to 31 or 86.

  3. Joe Schwartz says:

    I truly fell in love with estimation180 when I realized how many skills could be embedded in those deceptively simple tasks. The fact that we can take the template for this activity and use it in every grade level is another testimony to its genius. I love the way you played it out with the first graders, being “less helpful” and resisting the temptation to jump in. A model lesson.

    • gfletchy says:

      Thanks Joe! Your love of estimation and blogging about it has definitely provided me a nice little push. And like you said, there’s no denying the scalability of estimation as it allows us to to reach every student.

  4. Dana says:

    I just did this exact lesson. I had so much fun doing it and the kids were extremely engaged. There was so much ‘meat’ in this lesson and so many opportunities for reflection. The kids were able to tell an estimate that was way too low and way too high and justify how they knew. A few kids were clearly able to tell their strategy on how they came to their estimation. Also, when it came time to count the cubes in groups of 10, several students were constantly changing their estimates. There was so much learning and evidence of learning in this activity. At the end of the day we did a ‘what stuck with you today’ journal and many of them wrote about the math lesson and what they learned from it. (Oh, and when they did the human number line, a few students took charge and showed good leadership skills which is great for anecdotal assessments for learning skills). Thanks Graham for such a great lesson!

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