An introduction to fractions
Fractions are the first tricky concept learners come across in maths. Fortunately for maths teachers, most learners are familiar with fractions before they're taught in the classroom and this familiarity comes from family conversations like this:
"Mum, can I have the last chocolate bar?"
"No, share it with your sister."
Two minutes later...
"Mum, my half of chocolate isn't as big as hers!"
Even at a very young age children have an idea of how old they are in terms of whole years and fractions:
"How old are you?"
"Three and a half."
Here are some common difficulties children have with fractions:
1) The language of fractions trips them up:
Order / Numbering Word
See how the same word is used with two different meanings: sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth . . . . this can cause a lot of confusion early on.
2) Dividing something into three parts doesn't mean you have thirds.
Take this "cake" - whoever got the first slice would be very happy!
The parts must be equal to be thirds!
3) Thinking that fractions always have the same shape:
Learners are used to seeing fractions like this:
But they sometimes don't realise this could also be a quarter:
4) Getting mixed up between a "fraction" and a "fraction of a number"
Young learners can get their head around the idea that a half is bigger than a quarter.
However tell them that one quarter of 200 is bigger than one half of 50 and it you may see the confusion in their faces. Again this is a language issue because learners don't pick up on the big difference between "one quarter" and "one quarter of..."
How can parents help?
1) Never miss a chance to get your child using fractions at the dinner table or when baking in the kitchen.
2) Listen and talk to your child about fractions. For ages 4 to 6 this will be about the common fractions - halves, quarters, thirds.
3) As children get older they'll start simplifying and adding fractions - to keep up with this, sign up for our blog.
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