Mysterious! That's how a lot of kids see fractions, but with a few helpful tips fractions can be much easier to learn! Why is it SO important for kids to REALLY understand fractions? A long-term study of 4,276 students in the United States and Britain compared student scores on math tests at about age ten, and again at 16. What they discovered was (and this is a little scary) A student's understanding of fractions in the fifth grade predicts performance in all high-school math classes. That's enough to give any teacher the heebie jeebies! What it also means is that we all have to do a better job making sure all of our kids "get" fractions! To see more about this study click here.
1. Start with food!Learning about fractions has to be visual, so starting with food is a sure-fire way to grab EVERYONE'S attention. To open my fractions unit each year with third graders, I brought in two giant cookies. I divided the kids in half and each half got a cookie. Each child got to make one cut (or part of a cut, depending on class size). First we cut it in half and looked at the fraction that showed 1/2. Then cut it smaller and smaller and looked at what happened with the fractions. Kids were amazed to see that the denominator got larger but the pieces got smaller. We discussed why that happened, and to my amazement, it really "stuck". The larger denominator/smaller piece is always tricky in kids' minds....but not when food is involved!
2. Draw pictures!All through the fractions unit the teacher needs to draw pictures, kids need to draw pictures and if the principal comes in have her draw one too. I like drawing pictures on the board, because parts can be erased to ask new questions. Pictures are especially important when you teach equivalent fractions. You don't have to be an artist, a circle or rectangle will do. I've read that fraction bars and number lines are easier than circles for children to use in dividing up fractions. I think circles are good to begin with, but when fractions get bigger I have to agree than bars and lines seem to work better.
3. Get tactile!Manipulatives aren't just for younger students. Older students needs them just as much, and even more since they are dealing with more complex problems. There's just something about that tactile experience of moving pieces around that helps concepts become better understood in the brain. Fraction bars are wonderful to use with kids and also allow students to line them up one under another to do some comparisons. If your school doesn't have fraction strips you can print some here. If you print them on cardstock they last longer. If you have students who are just learning about fractions (2nd and 3rd grades you might really like the 7 tactile and kinesthetic fraction games here.
If you would like some great videos on teaching fractions you can't do much better than the Teaching Channel. Check this one out!
If you are looking for an already-done unit for fractions (sounds like a time saver to me and 96 pages) check out this pdf here. I didn't make this one, but it's a goodie and FREE! A few page samples are below:
I hope these ideas are helpful! If you have any of your own, be sure to add them in the comments section!