Understanding Rational Numbers, Fraction Fun

The set of rational numbers includes all natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, and fractions. A rational number can be represented by any one of its equivalent fractions. This can be an extremely overwhelming concept for students (and for teachers too). As I have said in previous blogs, the most meaningful path to understanding (or math literacy) is through real world situations and making the computations visible. Fortunately for teachers, there are many wonderful resources available for making fractions fun!

There are infinite food objects that can be divided and shared to illustrate fractions, pizza being a popular choice. There are paper cutouts and color a section of this shape worksheets. These are all great tools to help students visualize and understand equivalent fractions. As a teacher, I will use all of these strategies, because fraction practice in a variety of ways will increase deeper understanding by my students.

I am a believer in the power of physical activity to increase brain activity and comprehension. That is why I look for ways to be active in the classroom. If a concept can be explored through movement, I will get my students moving! Right now, my favorite form of fraction discovery is bowling. It is easy to implement, a great way to see those fractions, and fun for students. Many cool worksheets for this activity can be found online, or you could make your own.

To play fraction bowling, you need: a number of pins (5-10) for each group (I recommend 2-3 students per group), and a scorecard for each student. Have the students make fractions to represent how many pins they knocked down, and how many pins they missed. Ask questions about equivalency like: which is more 5/10 or 1/2?

For extended learning, change the number of pins that students start with. Compare the new fractions to the original fractions. Ask questions about the new fraction equivalencies like: what is a better score 5/9 or 5/10? How can we compare 5/9 to 5/10 to see which is more? Hint: find the common denominator.

Ok, bowling is fun and requires movement, and that is great for engaging students. However, in this digital era in which we live, teachers have to embrace technology. I realize that technological devices are an important part of my student’s (and my own) lives. Luckily, there are really great online tools for working with fractions! Kathy has created a page with links to interactive fraction websites. I recommend Fraction Bowling as a follow up to the classroom bowling activity. There are a lot more ways to make fractions fun, so why not engage, inspire, enjoy!

Math Literacy – beyond terminology

An important element of critical thinking on any topic is literacy, or competence. Math is no exception. In order for students to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts, they must first become math literate. This means that students can apply mathematical reasoning skills to help them solve real world problems. It sounds like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be so grand. For young students math literacy involves knowing if they should use addition or subtraction to solve a word problem. This can transfer to the real world experience of biking to the corner store to purchase a treat, and making sure that the correct change was received. Older students will have more complex real world experiences, such as, earning enough money to purchase tickets for a concert. They can be encouraged to set up equations while problem solving.

Our job as teachers is to ensure that each student becomes math literate. The first step is to promote an expectation of success in math for all of our students. We have to believe that our students can do well, and then they will believe it too. Set up a culture of critical thinking on a variety of numerical topics. Invite students to create their own math problems, and to solve them. Set aside some class time for a discussion of thoughts about math. Tell students that there are no bad ideas, and watch the discussion grow. Even if no actual math computations are made, the discussion will reinforce the idea that math is important and that everyone can be good at it with practice.

Students need to understand that the mathematical language is important in conveying ideas, but math literacy goes beyond knowing terms. It involves a deeper thinking, the ability to view problems from multiple perspectives, and to apply previous knowledge to new situations. Giving our students the time and the skills to develop competence in math gives them the confidence for continued academic success.