Are We Teaching Fractions Effectively? Rethinking Fraction Instruction
Fractions are typically taught as slices of pizza or pieces of pie. Using these real-world objects offers a simple, visual, and concrete way for students to begin thinking about fractions. But they can also make it harder for students to relate fractions and their properties to the whole numbers they already know.
The fact is that fractions are more than just parts of a whole. First and foremost fractions are numbers that can be compared and ordered. But several studies show that many students tend to think of fractions as two separate whole numbers rather than as a single number, which is known as whole number bias. This leads to fundamental errors in comparing fractions, understanding fraction equivalence, and fraction arithmetic.
So how do we rethink and revamp fraction instruction to reshape students’ understanding of fractions? Read on for the research behind fraction instruction and tips to teach fractions effectively.
The Challenges of Traditional Fraction Instruction
Whole number bias and other difficulties with understanding individual fractions are why 50% of U.S. eighth graders were unable to order fractions from least to greatest on a major national assessment. For example, when students see 1/8 and 1/3, they might use their knowledge of 8 and 3 and think 1/8 is larger. They aren’t thinking of 1/8 as a number itself, its size, or location on the number line. Subsequently, because students lack fundamental fraction knowledge, teachers might revert to teaching tricks to get through the curriculum, such as cross multiplying, also known as the butterfly method, to compare fractions.
What Does the Research Say About Fraction Instruction?
Research shows that when students understand fractions as numbers and how they relate to other numbers, they have more success than through more traditional instruction. Significant new research also shows that understanding fraction magnitude (size) is an important building block in learning fractions. It gives students a way to put any number, including fractions, onto a common footing and allows them to compare and order fractions and reason about their size.
3 Easy Tips for Revamping Your Fractions Instruction
Flip the script on traditional fraction instruction with the following teaching tips. And see how Frax math solution uses the latest research to provide you with simple ways to implement these strategies into your next fraction lesson.
- Focus on Fractions as Numbers First – Each fraction has a specific magnitude (size) and position on the number line alongside whole numbers and other fractions. With Frax, students work with length models and number lines to interpret, represent, compare, order, and estimate fractions. In doing so, they overcome whole number bias and develop a strong understanding of fraction magnitude.
- Introduce Part-Whole Model Second – Once students have built a firmer understanding of fractions as numbers and how they fit in with other numbers, you can introduce part-whole and shaded area models. Frax story-based missions are ordered so students understand fractions as numbers before diving into part-whole and shaded area activities.
- Build on Students’ Knowledge –As students are learning more about fractions, it’s important to scaffold instruction. Frax uses brief, just-in-time instruction, and 100+ activities where students learn by doing to help them incrementally internalize and master understanding of fractions as numbers
With these tips and ExploreLearning Frax as your fraction solution, you’ll be able to rethink and revamp how you teach fractions and erase the fundamental errors in fractions estimation, comparison, equivalency, and arithmetic that too often hold students back.
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