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Topic: Re: is learning fractions hurting children?
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Michael Moy (send mail to 11-Jul-1995 0915

Posts: 12
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: is learning fractions hurting children?
Posted: Aug 10, 1995 1:37 PM
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Kent posted:

>> Conceptually, it is a good idea (based on the ease with which a
>>system of tens *could* be learned before the system of units prevalent
>>here), but the fact that our kids don't really have motivation outside
>>school to think "decimally" might be why it's done as it is.

It seems to me that decimals are a specific case of fractions, so the current
method is to teach the general and then the specific. It sounds like they do it
the other way around in Europe. I agree with the motivation comment. We have:

- half a mile
- a quarter pounder (with cheese)
- I'm four feet three and one-half inches tall
- add 3/8 pounds of butter
- I'll take a slice of pizza (1/8)
- I drink a half a pint of milk at lunchtime

>But we are thinking decimally more and more.

I haven't seen this in U.S. textbooks. I have a set of 1995 Scott Foresman
Social Studies books and it still mainly deals in english weights and measures.
I haven't looked at U.S. science texts, though. Could you provide examples;
especially at the elementary level?

>Would anyone die if kids learned fractions in middle school when they are
>probably more developmentally ready. I know my ten year old daughter would be
>a happier camper if this happened.

This would most likely cause a political firestorm in our district.

>All these explantions concerning frations are very creative, but they seem more
>geared to the older child.

I personally feel that this stuff could be done at a younger age if enough time
was available.

From all the response this topic is getting, it is
>obvious that this a "big deal" in elementary ed., perhaps too big of a deal.

Many adults have a lot of trouble with fractions let alone children. Also,
weakness in fractions makes it difficult to get very far with algebra.

>The foreign teacher who told me that children abroad learn decimals first
>said that this was the main reason that these children did better in math
>than ours.. Could all our math problems in the U.S. stem from something so
>simple? Hard to believe. Any comments?

It's highly unlikely that all of our math problems stem from this but I can see
the point. They only have to learn tenths (and hundredths, etc.) to make
connections to their everyday world. Our students have to learn halves, thirds,
quarters, tenths, etc., to make the connections to their everyday world. It's
more to learn up-front, but there's less back-end work.

I've always liked the idea of a whole bunch of little successes (getting
gradually bigger) to build confidence and to provide foundations for the next
level of work. Learning decimals first can provide those little successes that
make it easier to go to the general. I'm still somewhat of a slave to tradition
though, and would probably pick our traditional approach.

Michael Moy

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