Q&A #20527

Fraction Readiness

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From: Pat Ballew (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Nov 28, 2009 at 16:18:40
Subject: Re: Fraction Readiness

>Students in grades 4,5,6 really seem to struggle with fraction concepts
>such as comparing and ordering fractions, finding equivalent fractions,
>etc.  Is there a "recommended sequence" for developing these concepts?
>What resources/teaching ideas have you found helpful in getting students
>to understand these concepts?

 I have absolutely no experience in sixth grade, so I can't tell anybody how
to teach them.  I would make one small suggestion for elementary teachers to
consider, but it might be best a little earlier than sixth grade.  My wish is
that for the first month or more that students were introduced to fractions
the teachers and texts would avoid the use of the typical a/b notation.  It
seems to confuse from day one and never get un-confused.  

I think if I asked any group of third graders what happens when I add four
bunnies to three bunnies, they would universally proclaim seven bunnies as
the obvious response.  And I know, BEFORE they are introduced to the
notation, if you asked about four ninths plus three ninths, they may ask what
the heck a ninth is, but would still declare the answer to be seven of 'em,
whatever they are.  
BUT... We introduce the notation 4/9 + 3/9 and they can say the words, but
the rhythm is lost.  They want to Add ALL THE numbers they see... because
they don't yet see the nines as names... and they may actually be too young
to see it yet.  

I don't know how hard it would be to get them to see that 1 half was the same
as 2 fourths or 4 eighths, but I would love to see someone try... this seems
to be the first place where students decide they will give up trying to
reason out mathematical ideas and tell the teacher whatever they think she/he
wants to hear.  Later (maybe eighth grade) we could introduce them with this
really "cool" way of writing out the fractions for the '''ths.  

Maybe it would never work, I still struggle with language with advanced high
school seniors, so I can't predict what would happen, but the way we do it
now seems NOT to work.  Maybe the sixth grade teachers could explain to me
where my idea would go wrong.  I know there is not an easy answer, but would
love to think there IS and answer.

 -Pat Ballew, for the T2T service

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