Just hearing the F word can cause kids (adults too) to freak out. And if you think about it, there are lots of reasons students feel flummoxed by fractions. For one thing, there's the misleading vocabulary, as when we reduce a fraction to lowest terms even though it doesn't involve a reduction in value. Or when we call a fraction "improper" just because its value is greater than one.
Then there are apparent inconsistencies between arithmetic with natural numbers and arithmetic with fractions. Multiplying 10 by 5, for example, increases the value from 10 to 50. But multiply 10 by 1/5, and you end up with only 2. Conversely, whereas dividing 10 by 2 yields a smaller number (5), 10 divided by 1/2 results in a larger number (20).
Yet as confusing as fraction arithmetic can be, a lot of this confusion can be prevented if students have a conceptual understanding of fractions before teachers target procedural understanding. In elementary school, students need to interact with concrete representations of fractions until they can see the effects of operations involving fractions. In other words, teachers need to develop students' understanding of fractions using manipulatives--actual and/or virtual (National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is an awesome--and free--site).
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Posted on Tue, May 29, 2012
by Nicole Colston