I’m sure by now that everyone has figured out that everything in my educational process tends to circle back to my children and this is still the case as I begin to examine teaching and learning about fractions. Fractions can be a daunting task for some adults who basic math concepts should be second nature for. Imagine being a youngster and trying to figure out the world of fractions and why they are important to learn. I for one was a student who used to complain that I would “never use this in real life,” and so I wondered why on earth I was being forced to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions on a worksheet. I’m someone who needs to see how something will have a direct effect on my life before I am completely on board learning about it, so when I think about teaching my daughter about fractions I know that I will definitely begin by showing her where she will use them in real life.
Obviously, neither of my children (ages five and two, remember) are at the point of learning to use fractions. We are still working on addition and subtraction of whole numbers, but I know that this will be headed our way eventually. Together, my children and I like to cook and bake. Baking is one of the best places to show children the value of learning fractions. Have you ever baked chocolate chip cookies? I assume the answer is yes, but hey what do I know? I was in a fourth grade classroom this spring where we took a field trip to the school kitchen and baked cookies in math class. (How I got to sub on that day is beyond me, but I was super pleased with my luck!). The day before I arrived to the class, the students were given this recipe for cookies. The teacher then ran through different scenarios with the students: “If I only have one egg, but wanted to bake cookies, what could I do?” (The answer is obviously to cut the recipe in half). or “Can I cut this recipe into fourths?” (No, because you cannot take half of an egg), etc. When I got to the classroom, we multiplied the recipe ingredients to make a triple batch before leaving for the kitchen to see if our math was correct (the teacher instructed the students the day before that if the cookies turned out that their math must have been correct). I thought this was a very fun way for the students to have a chance to see the value in what they were spending classroom time on.
As teachers, it is our job to not only teach that one half plus one half is one, but to show our students why they should learn these ideas. As shown with the baking example above, there are many fun ways use fractions in the classroom. I have also seen teachers create or use fun videos to show the value of learning fractions. It is so important for us to create and use lesson plans that teach the facts, but also the reasoning behind learning it. My daughter is only five, but she always wants to know why she needs to learn the things we work on. Interestingly, I am also of the opinion that instead of focusing on the Common Core Standards that so many states have adapted (mine included), perhaps lesson plans should be proven valuable by giving real-life scenarios of when the information could be valuable. This goes for every subject, but math in particular could be effected. If you’re like me for example and want to rebuild your deck and you find out that your current deck is twenty two and one half feet by thirty and one fourth feet…there are a few ways to calculate the area (681 square feet once I rounded up), but you have to know a few things first! I could convert it all into inches (which by the way, is what I did) multiply to get your answer and convert back to feet (rounding to the nearest whole foot). I could have also simply
multiplied the fractions to get my answer and then of course rounded up. I can now use this information in a plethora of ways (I can round back down for an estimate of how much it will cost to rebuild my deck or I could round up to get a higher estimate just to be safe, etc.). The entire point is to illustrate to students how to use fractions properly and show them where they will actually use them in their lives.