For one of my students, learning fractions was as natural as breathing. For another, it took some doing, but the concept was finally grasped. However, for one of my students, the concept of fractions was so much Greek, or Hebrew, or Mandarin Chinese. There was no rhyme or reason and we just couldn't seem to master the idea.
I recalled our struggles with fractions again a week or so ago as I talked with a young mom who could not seem to grasp how fractions worked herself, let alone teach them to her young son. I suggested she bake a pie!
Sometimes teaching fractions, or any other math concept, is as "simple" as getting it off the page and into your hands. Math manipulatives are great for "handling" math, but not always necessary. If you don't want to invest the money in a manipulatives kit, or need to master fractions *today*, and can't wait for a kit to arrive, you need only go as far as your kitchen.
Blueberry Pie is a favorite around our house, but you can substitute apple or cherry or any other pie that has a top crust. The crust isn't crucial to teaching how fractions work, but it does make it easier to visualize the "parts" of the whole. Once your pie is baked, explain that the finished pie is the whole. Cut the pie exactly in half. Ask your student how many halves make up the whole. Now cut the pie into fourths (aka quarters). Ask your student how many fourths make up the whole. Finally, cut your pie into eighths. Ask your student how many eights make up the whole. Simple? Yes. Fundamental? Definitely. But this basic understanding is crucial to moving ahead with fractions.
Now you can head in so many different directions. Demonstrate to your student how money is very much like fractions. Lay a dollar bill (the whole) on the kitchen counter next to the pie. Next place four quarters (fourths) next to the dollar bill. Spread a sheet of waxed paper or a paper towel on the counter next to the money and the pie. Measure out a cup (the whole) on the paper. Next measure out a quarter cup (fourths) of flour, four times, next to the whole cup. Be sure to point out how the "parts" are the same as the "whole".
The best part is yet to come! Grab a couple of plates and ask your student to serve each of you an eighth of the blueberry pie apiece. After you've enjoyed the pie (even better warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!), ask your student how many eighths are left. Take a look at the pie and point out that the empty space left by the two slices (eighths) you've just enjoyed, are equal to one-fourth of the whole pie. Be sure to speak in "fraction language" (i.e. fourths, eighths, etc...) so your student equates the term with what they see.
You've now laid the ground work for not only understanding the basics of fractions, but also adding and subtracting fractions. And it didn't require a piece of paper, a pencil, or even a calculator! However, when you're ready to put your fractions on paper, do a rough sketch of your blueberry pie up in the corner ... then begin with writing 1 (whole), 1/4 (fourths) and 1/8 (eighths). Have your student "cut" the pie and shade in the appropriate fractions as you write them on the paper.
The next time you work on fractions, use soft, flour tortillas, or one of those large candy bars that are scored in 10 or 12 blocks. You can also cut "pies" out of construction paper simply by tracing around a large dinner plate. And if you want to "watch" someone have great fun with fractions, check out our Mathtacular 3 DVD. Justin is a pro at making any math concept fun and easy to learn.
So when it comes time to teach fractions ... tell your kids you're going to teach them math in the kitchen. The fun of creating a pie and enjoying the "fruits" of your labor is a much better way to learn fractions than stressing over a math workbook. And it leaves a lasting mental connection between fractions and parts and pieces of a delicious blueberry pie.
Still on the journey ...
Sonlight Customer Champion