Fractions and Division—Keeping It Real

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Web_Stipek_Success with Fractions-Next Steps-blog1Surely, in your teaching of fractions and division, you’ve had kids wonder (if not say out loud) –When in the world will we ever have to divide fractions?  Don’t feel bad if you were caught off guard and found yourself grasping for an answer.  It’s a good question.

Well, a good answer is that fractions are used all the time in our everyday world by people in all sorts of jobs. So when your little skeptics question the value of what you’re teaching, try posing questions like these to get them thinking:

Let’s say you have ¼ of a birthday cake and 3 people. How would you divide it?

Or, what if you want to share ¼ of a pizza among 4 friends?

Or, if each of your friends can eat ¼ bag of potato chips, and you have 3 bags, how many people can you have over?

Pizza … potato chips…birthday cake…the best way to a budding mathematician’s mind is through the stomach!

These are just a few short, real-life examples for bringing fractions and division to life. Hopefully, they inspire students to learn how to divide fractions and see how to apply this knowledge in their everyday lives. It’s all about making the connection between abstract numbers and the real world. You’ve got to constantly work on this, or else lose your students.

The value of using everyday models and examples—like birthday cake—to teach is backed by research. Studies show:

•  Students understand math more deeply when pictures and concrete models are used in the classroom to demonstrate what fractions actually mean.

•  Students understand even more when the connection is meaningful to their world and lives. Write ½ on the SMART Board and kids may think, so what? Show kids a container of milk or a bottle of pop and suddenly they get it.

•  Students show even greater understanding when those models are constantly present. So, don’t drag them out and then put them away. Keep them handy and visible throughout the lesson, and continue to refer to them.

•  Speaking of keeping it real, here’s a fun exercise for your students who claim they don’t know a single adult who uses fractions. You want your kids to see that fractions are being used in all kinds of jobs by engineers, chefs, retailers, bankers, pharmacists, doctors, statisticians, the list is endless.

To prove your point, have each student choose a profession. Ask them: How are fractions used on the job? How does knowledge of fractions make the job easier? Then let students research the profession. It’s helpful to brainstorm with them a list of ways to collect information. For example, in-person interviewing is a good one. Students can write about what they find in their math journals. Or do oral presentations, individually or as a group. This experience will send the message loud and clear: Fractions are NOT a waste of time!

Web_Stipek_Success with Fractions-Next Steps-blog2Want to dive deeper into fractions, especially complex ones, and how to improve your instruction? Check out SDE’s webinar Success with Fractions—Next Steps: Simple Strategies for More Difficult Fractions (Grades 3–6) by veteran classroom teacher and Singapore Math expert Anni Stipek.

Is your fraction instruction getting tougher? Have you found ways to simplify it? Let us hear what you’re doing!

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