Fractions is never an easy subject to teach. I remember it was always the one topic that I dreaded teaching when I was in year 3. No matter how I tried to deliver it, some of the children remained confused.
This mornings lesson really needed to go well as we were being visited by one of the numeracy consultants from the LA as part of my MaST course. It wasn’t encouraging when two of my boys announced that ‘I don’t get fractions!’ When I pursued that, they both felt that fractions were hard and that they generally didn’t understand lessons involving them.
We were looking at comparing fractions eg which is bigger 2/3 or 4/5. I was quite surprised by how many children had no idea of where to place a selection of fractions on a 0-1 number line. We spent quite a long time discussing where each one would go and using the fractions ITP to help.
Then I introduced them to the idea of an array and asked how a 3 x 5 grid could help them decide which fraction was bigger. They quickly spotted how it could be used and felt that it was clearer and easier than a number line.
Then I really pushed them and asked which was the larger out of 4/5 or 7/9. They each had a piece of paper and had to fold it into fifths one way and ninths the other way to create a folded grid of 45 squares. This was an incredibly difficult task. How often do we ask children to fold anything other than halves or quarters I wonder? Not being able to start by folding in half made it a real challenge for most of them.
What was really interesting was the level and perseverance. Not one child wanted to give up, they were all determined to fold their paper accurately. They shared their ideas about how they could find fifths and ninths and tried different ways to see which worked best. The two boys who said that they didn’t get fractions produced a very accurately folded sheet and could quite easily see which fraction was the largest. And could tell me that the difference between them was 1/45.
I need another lesson to develop that and actually do more work on folding the paper into different fractions which I think was a really useful activity. It gave the children a real feel for how big a certain fraction was compared to another.
The consultant was impressed with the amount of discussion being done and the level of language being used. I felt that every child had developed their knowledge of fractions and maybe most importantly, they enjoyed doing it.