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Eliminating Fraction Frustration:
How to Increase Conceptual Understanding Among Elementary Students
Brittany Clark
University of Florida
Fall 2010

The concept of fractions can be a difficult one for elementary students to grasp due to its abstract
nature, as well as traditional teaching methods that focus on procedures and algorithms instead of
first working to establish deep conceptual understanding among students. This paper begins by
explaining how fractions are integrated into each aspect of number sense, and how crucial it is
for teachers to establish connections between fractions and other mathematical concepts. Next, it
explains the necessary foundational knowledge about fractions that students must have in order
to understand fractions, as well as how teachers can help students develop a firm foundation.
Further, the paper explores possible student misconceptions and difficulties they may face when
learning fractions. The paper also suggests that teachers use strategies that focus on real-life
problem solving, use manipulatives and visuals, as well as student discovery. Finally, it explains
a variety of engaging, hands-on, and problem-based activities and lessons that teachers can use to
enhance conceptual understanding of fractions in order to decrease student difficulty and
frustration with fractions.

“Children are bound to find fractions computations arbitrary. whole is 2 2 2 4  Numeration (numerator and denominator and understanding the unit whole). such as or 75%).ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 3 Eliminating Fraction Frustration: How to Increase Conceptual Understanding Among Elementary Students Introduction: The Essential Components of Understanding Fractions The topic of fractions is an integral part of the elementary school mathematics curriculum.     By considering how fractions are directly related to each aspect of number sense. 1999). teachers must realize that fractions are not simply “algorithms to be taught” (Faulkner. Teachers should understand that fractions are in fact an integral part of each component of number sense. 2 1 1 1 2  Equality ( = only if the unit the same. p.5). 2006.   Quantity/magnitude (where a fraction would be located on a number line) (2009). 394). = ). In order to assist children in developing a deep conceptual understanding of fractions. ratios). 28). yet it is one of the most difficult for students to master. however. confusing and easy to mix up unless they receive help understanding what fractions and fraction operations mean” (Siebert & Gaskin. p. 3  Proportional reasoning ( means 3 for every 4). 4 8 1  Base ten ( = 50/100 = . which includes:  Algebraic thinking (slope. Understanding and being able to use fractions is essential for mathematics success. 2009. teachers will be . traditional teaching methods often focus on procedures and algorithms rather than deep conceptual understanding that is necessary for fraction success. Teachers feel that teaching fractions is a challenge because they must consider what will help to deepen students’ understanding (Yoshida & Shinmachi. 4 3 6  Form of a number (different ways to represent .

 ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 4 better able to understand the important mathematical bases for fractions and be able to use these as a foundation for teaching fractions to students in a way that supports linking fractions to other aspects of mathematics. they do not necessarily understand the meaning of a fraction. yet make sure that they are developmentally appropriate. 2006). fractions can be developmentally appropriate for introduction in the primary grades. These misconceptions about fractions may be due to the fact that one of the difficulties with fractions is that their meaning can be ambiguous: They can represent ratios. relevant to real-life. teachers should use a number of methods for increasing conceptual understanding. which is above the developmental level of young children (Siebert & Gaskin. it was found that for preschool children. Introducing Fractions: Establishing a Basis for Conceptual Understanding According to Powell & Hunting (2003). or even a part-towhole relationship. In a study by Brizuela (2006). such as representations. These children referred to their ages as “3 1 1 ” for example. “Children’s understanding of the part-towhole relationship is the foundation of rational-number knowledge and is fundamental to . “fractions are an essential part of their daily lives” (p. 2 2 Brizuela (2006) believes that this is because young children often think of fractions as “little  bits” and do not understand the relative magnitude of different numbers (p. As Kosbob & Moyer (2004) point out. yet also sometimes had the misconception that 3 is less than 3 for instance. and games. models. and do not cause misconceptions. 300). Regardless. 282). manipulatives. quotients. Teachers should begin by introducing students to the idea of the part-to-whole relationship. thus deepening conceptual understanding. In addition to understanding how fractions are integrated into number sense. Another misconception among young children is the idea that all fractions are halves.

376). They also need to understand that fractions can be used with continuous quantities (pieces of a pie for example) or discrete quantities (such as a small group out of a larger whole of candies) (Kosbob & Moyer. children do not grasp these concepts on their own. or even easily with a teacher’s help. crucial to this understanding is the idea of what “ 1 ” actually means. Often. 5 In fact. p. For example. if a child is given a picture of five items. 2006. To help students grasp these concepts. make a whole” (Siebert & Gaskin. 2006. Partitioning is in effect splitting or dividing up a whole into fractional parts. partitioning can be explained by stating that 1 is “the amount we get by taking a whole. and not realize that 4 is actually one quantity. and taking one of those parts” and iterating by stating that 1 is 5 “the amount such that 5 copies of that amount. Many 5 . he may see it as four items colored out of the five. and iterating is the opposite. However. p. Unfortunately. For example. 2004). 1999). however.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 5 understanding all rational-number concepts…[C]onstructing the notion of ‘fractional parts of the whole’ is the first goal for children in understanding fractions” (p. 395). 394). they need to think of fractions in terms other than as just whole-number combinations” (Siebert & Gaskin. they simply view the fraction as a number written on top of another number. is that they see that a fractional part is a whole in itself as well (Yoshida & Shinmachi. four of which are colored in. 5 dividing it into 5 equal parts. put together. they should learn about partitioning and iterating. “for students to be able to develop meaningful concepts of fractions and fraction operations. Just as important.

This makes fractions more familiar in that they seem more like a unit that can be counted just like any other non-fractional unit. Similarly. Instead. part (Watanabe. the numerator is the counting number while the denominator partitions. the whole into the units that are to be counted. or divides. or the counting number. which can lead to the following problems: . 2002). because the students will imagine it as taking 5 pieces of 7 away (Siebert & whole numbers. 231). They will see the numerator and denominator as unit – which is essential for a deep understanding of fractions. but do not understand the idea of an ordinal number. in our standard system of fraction notation. and not as a Gaskin. they would be more likely to understand the idea if fractions were written as “2 one-thirds” for example. Children will miss the part-to-whole relationship. teachers can encourage students to think of the fraction 4 for example as “4 one-fifths. due to the fact that students will recall that they are working with same-sized units (Mack. He suggests that young students may not be able to grasp this idea with the notation at once. as well as learning partitioning (making the parts) and iterating (making the whole). 2006). In other words. Likewise. 2004. or leftover. Watanabe (2002) states that this is because children understand the idea of a numerator. which will be helpful when it comes time for addition and subtraction with fractions. the wording that a teacher uses when introducing fractions is a crucial factor that can lead to confusion or understanding. p. which is the denominator.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 6 students may believe “ 1 1 ” is actually “ ” because they believe that the “1” stands for the part 5 4 and the “4” stands for the other. Teachers should not state that “ 5 ” means “5 out of 7 7” for example.” This helps students focus on the 5 fractional size of pieces while first learning how to count fractional pieces.

e. When introducing fractions to young students. . Thus. when in fact the problem may be looking for 1 1 of ”). They also may make the mistake of counting parts by counting the partitions rather than the actual pieces. it is a crucial part of helping students develop conceptual understanding of fractions. 399). 3 cookies out of 6 is more than 2 cookies out of 4). Students should also be given time to discuss the meanings of fraction units and justify how they solve the problem to make it correct. Not understanding what the actual “whole” is (believing that the denominator always  means that there are that number of pieces. given  wondering how she can take 4 away from 3). 2008). 2006). for instance. Siebert & Gaskin (2006) state that. Teaching partitioning and iterating. This can lead to students believing that they have fourths instead of fifths. Another issue students have with partitioning is that they do not realize that partitioning a unit into n parts requires n-1 marks (Norton & McCloskey. as well as using terminology such as “3 fourths” rather than “3 out of 4” can combat these difficulties because they relate the fractional parts directly to the “referent whole” (Siebert & Gaskin.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 7  Not understanding that fourths (or any other fractional part) are same sized parts in a specified whole. 4 . such as having students create a unit fraction from a whole. 3  Not understanding the concept or possibility of improper fractions (i. the best beginning lessons include those that utilize partitioning and iterating. “the process of justifying why the solution method works leads to a natural connection between these images and the meaning of the unit fractions” (p. or making a whole given a unit fraction. 3 2 Not being able to compare fractions (thinking that because 3 cookies is more than 2 “    cookies.

Additionally. teachers should not teach division of fractions using repeated subtraction because students will think that the fractional answer will be smaller. Teachers should not teach multiplication of fractions using the repeated addition model that is used to teach multiplication of whole numbers because it can be confusing – it leads students to think that the fractional answer will be larger. not smaller. the underlying conceptual meaning escapes them. 336).mainly the fact that when multiplying fractions. using the invert-and-multiply algorithm is an activity completely isolated from concepts and meaning” because the teacher simply tells the student a procedure without conceptual basis (p. 2001. 2002). as is the case with whole number division. as well as the fact that a whole number can be written next to a fraction (Neumer. When teaching division of fractions. p. especially when facing complex problems” (Wu. the concepts of mixed numbers and improper fractions really confuse students. not smaller as with whole numbers. In the same way. Kennedy & Tipps (1997) state that it is fairly easy for teachers to teach students the algorithms for multiplication of fractions. when in fact the result of dividing fractions is a larger fractional number. “Children who know only rules for computing have limited ability to generalize the information to other situations. and when dividing fractions. Further. the answer is larger. not larger as would be expected. however even if they can solve problems easily by using the rules they have learned. To make . According to Sharp & Adams (2002). the answer is smaller. multiplying and dividing fractions are difficult concepts for students to understand because they seem contrary to the ideas that students have already developed about multiplication and division with whole numbers -. The same is true with division. teachers often teach the invert-and-multiply algorithm. 2007). which students simply memorize (Sharp & Adams. “For many students.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 8 Further. 174). because they do not understand that a numerator can be larger than the denominator.

457). By using visuals and reallife problems. He states that this is different from a model. 488). Students need to have a conceptual understanding of these before being taught an algorithm. 175). students can “solidify their existing knowledge. activity sheets. “connect their written algorithms to the concept or explain how they derived their answers” even after he tried using manipulatives. visuals. students can often develop misconceptions from using them. An important role for mathematics teachers is to “provide appropriate symbolization to represent more powerful ways of expressing contextual meanings” .ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 9 matters worse. as “mathematical concepts for all operations are rooted in situations and problems” (p. Wu (2001) suggests that students should be given real-life problems involving fractions. To combat these issues. 175). but as Neumer (2007) explains. 145). It was simply still too abstract for them to grasp. and further develop generalized ideas about the operation” in order to be able to effectively understand the reasons behind algorithms for computation (Wu. Although representations can be helpful in teaching fractions. p. “Students who are offered rich problem-solving opportunities develop a deeper understanding of concepts and are able to apply their understanding to future learning” (p. or computer games (p. teachers attempt to teach the traditional algorithms to convert mixed numbers into improper fractions and vice versa while students are still struggling to grasp the concept of what mixed numbers and improper fractions really are. As Roddick & Silvas-Centeno (2007) state. Watanabe (2002) defines a representation as “the act of capturing a mathematical concept of relationship in some form and to the form itself” (p. because a model is what is actually being used to represent a mathematical idea. and representations are also important because they make abstract mathematical ideas more concrete for students. pictures. Pictures. his students struggled and could not. 2001. extend what they know.

but younger children may have trouble understanding the part-towhole relationship. even though they are common tools used in elementary mathematics classrooms. Younger students need this visual in order to understand what they are doing. but are not necessarily effective in all cases. That being said. quotients. whereas older students may be able to conceptualize this in a more abstract manner.e. they can in fact lead to problems with fraction addition with unlike denominators. Pattern blocks can be used to teach fractions. the student loses the concrete form of the whole. younger students cannot see the difference between the different denominators in size of unit proportional to the whole (i. Research has shown that students must have a conceptual understanding of fractions and mixed numbers in order to be able to place them properly on a number line. their “whole” (Watanabe. 2002). 2002). 2001. as well as the developmental level and ability of the students.” for example. a method that teachers frequently use in . First of all.e. if unifix (connecting) cubes are used to help students understand the part-to-whole ratio with fractions. Therefore. the child may combine both the fractional parts (numerators) and the wholes (denominators). fourths versus thirds) because of the fact that they cannot manipulate the fractional part from the whole without losing their representation. Other methods can be used. which confuses students (Watanabe. number lines have some inherent problems as well. For example. They should not be used when asking children to add fractions with unlike denominators. Second. part-to-whole relationships). ratios. Third. Losing one block appears to change the whole. and thus. Second. as countable units. p. That being said. unifix cubes would best be used when adding and subtracting while students are learning the basic idea of “halves” or “thirds. if one cube is taken away. there are two important keys to remember when selecting models to represent fractions: the manner in which fractions are being represented must match the meaning of the fraction that is being learned (i.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 10 (Empson. 424).

p. 2004. this is not effective because it fails to connect the idea of fractions to concepts such as multiplication and division (Empson. decimal and percent concepts. “Figuring out what strategies can be generalized and why is an important aspect of classroom activity that supports the development of students’ identities as mathematically capable people” .ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 11 teaching fraction equivalence is by depicting identical circular or rectangular regions within a whole. they experience difficulties with fraction computation. Further. Therefore. teachers need to provide students with lessons that help them to develop a strong conceptual foundation with fractions: ones that allow the students enough time and teacher support so that the students will be able to develop the necessary background knowledge for mathematical success in the future. 2004. According to Empson (2001). teachers should use a variety of strategies to enhance and develop this conception further. however. a strategy that teachers can use to assist students who are having difficulty with fraction computation is to make “explicit references to strategies they previously used to solve problems” as well as to have them “look for similarities between problems and similarities between strategies involving the use of manipulative materials and those involving number sentences” (Mack. 2001). because: “When children do not understand foundational fraction concepts. as well as if it can be generalized for use with other problems (Empson. 2001). as well as ones that support relationships among mathematical concepts so that students see how they are interrelated (Empson. 2001). Once students have developed a basic conceptual understanding of what a fraction is. 230). p. and ratio and proportion concepts” (Kosbob & Moyer. This must be done before beginning computation. Students will simply learn to count the number of parts and figure out the name of the fraction. Specifically. the teacher can ask students to consider whether or not the strategy makes sense mathematically. 375). once a student develops a strategy.

and thus. giving students the opportunity to visualize abstract concepts using manipulatives will help them to eventually be able to understand the concept and solve problems without the use of concrete materials. not just the steps. such as the idea that 3 sheep is . Students can explain steps without explaining why they work. 2007. The teacher’s role is essentially to support and value students’ strategy development. teachers should lead students in a discussion in which they agree or disagree with solutions and use student errors as a way to consider possible alternative methods. mainly the part-to-whole relationship.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 12 (p. “The farmer would like half of the sheep here. They will develop a basic idea of how much half of certain quantities are. manipulatives and real-life problem-solving scenarios are extremely beneficial because “they allow students to develop reasoning skills. She also suggests using pieces of a segmented Hershey’s chocolate bar to show students the part-to-whole relationship. An activity that can teach the part-to-whole relationship involves having a farm and putting equal numbers of different types of animals into each pen (Powell & Hunting. 424). children can be informally introduced to fractions. and half here” (2003). explore mathematical connections. or the art of paper folding. Mokashi (2009) gives some more activity ideas for enhancing fraction understanding. 2003). and build number sense” which will lead to “greater abstraction of concepts” (Roddick & Silvas-Centeno. p. This way of teaching is referred to as inquiry-based mathematics in that students must explain the reasoning behind their strategies. She suggests using origami. Further. Last. Basically. to teach students to recognize basic fractions. 145). 2001). Activities for Developing Conceptual Understanding of Various Fraction Concepts Powell & Hunting (2003) suggest that even in pre-school and kindergarten. The children can write about or explain how they split up the sheep. not have true conceptual understanding (Kazemi & Stipek. The teacher can simply say things like.

more mathematically advanced children. students were given different scenarios. the teacher asked them if 1 6 was the same as . This activity serves to build a foundation for the understanding of computation with whole numbers as well. The same sort of activity can be used with older. barns instead. Then. In a study done by Moone & de Groot (2007). or for the number of single items in the group. One specific aspect of fractions that many students struggle with is the idea of equivalent fractions. Many students struggle with the concept of the unit whole -. This could also be adapted in many ways. as well as six cubes of each of two different colors. fourth-grade students were given a task in order to help them learn equivalent fractions. non-procedural way to teach this to children. and six sticks that could be used to partition the tray. et cetera. In this lesson. They were able to see that 6 1 of the pens was the same as by placing a stick lengthwise down the 12 2 center of the ice tray. such as by having different simple fractions (like thirds or fourths). First. or twelve slots total. they were given a scenario in which the barn was flooded and the   . and more pens. and 6 liked regular milk. and many of them were unsure. by having more animals. consider using manipulatives and real-life scenarios that force them to alter their previously held misconceptions as well as eliminate confusion due to the abstract nature (especially if students were previously taught a procedure without a more concrete.whether the denominator stands for the number of equal groups. They were each then given a  2 12 rectangular ice cube tray divided into two rows of six slots each.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 13 half of 6 sheep. conceptual basis). as long as it is altered appropriately to fit their more advanced developmental level. The students were told that 6 of the pigs liked chocolate milk. For a conceptually based.

& Bay (1999). by having students measure and mark off fractional parts. seats on a bus. length. Any type of real-life scenario using visuals such as this is beneficial as well as enjoyable for students because it is based on a possible real-life situation. it was found that students had difficulty understanding that a whole needs to be partitioned into equal pieces. or any other type of array. something that is important for students to recognize. or even desks in a classroom. benchmarks and number lines can be used to assist students in learning how to relate and compare fraction sizes. and helps give students a more concrete understanding of the concept of equivalent fractions. and imagine them as pens students can use egg cartons. They found that the students who related the fractions to the 3 8 5  . and . . Students in the study actually realized that an 2 4 6 equivalent fraction was really just a different name for the same fraction. Second. and . In a study by Reys. which asked them to compare three fractional amounts of a pizza:   1 4 3 . in a barn. These students had been taught to compare fractions using the commonly taught methods of cross multiplication and finding common denominators and comparing numerators. The students had to repartition the trays. and then six sections of two pens.   ice cube trays. Kim. Mokashi (2009) suggests using a number line to teach fractions in the context of weight. 1 2 3 . six of twelve pigs was actually the same as. or equivalent to. and they could then see that even with four groups. This makes fractions relevant to real-life contexts.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 14 pigs had to move to a new barn in which there were four sections of three pens each rather than two sections of six pens each. or volume. . For this activity. The researchers asked fifthgrade students who ate the most pizza.

To help students. “Engaging these students regularly in modeling fractions can improve their fundamental understanding” (Reys et al. They suggest one game in which the teacher makes two number lines on the ground with tape. 1999. or 1. p. one on each line. teachers should ask 2 students to ask them to locate a fraction on a number line between 0 and 1 (linear model).. understanding numerator and denominator. 1 . and have them separate tiles to show a specified fraction. and students simply need to see how it is useful. Goral & Wiest (2007) suggest using an arts-based approach because it provides an alternative. The trick is that students need to figure out how to do it  . 532). After all. spaced four feet apart. One should be marked with the “1” and one with both the “ 1 ” and “1” (the “1s” should be equal). Once students have developed better conceptual understanding. Benchmarks are not 2 often used to teach students. but can actually be beneficial in that they can help students learn to compare fractions as well as estimate the answers to computation problems with fractions. (2009) suggest giving students a few real-life problems requiring estimation each day once conceptual understanding has developed in order to further skills. Reys et al. they can be taught to estimate computation with fractions using benchmarks. and being able to make mental models. Students can be taught to compare fractions to 0. estimation is an important skill. The teacher should also model using benchmarks and think out loud so students see how benchmarks are used. active way to improve understanding. shade  fractional pieces of different shapes (area model). in real-life situations.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 15 benchmark 1 required the least effort and reached more correct answers. relation to benchmarks. music and games can be used to teach fraction comparison and equivalence. Additionally. Two students will play this 2 game at the same time. including understanding fraction size.

then progressing to quarters.” Then. Students can be given sticks to beat to the music – one group will beat for each half note. understanding that four quarter notes played in a row together are the same length as one whole note. Students will be active while learning how many half jumps it takes to equal whole jumps.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 16 so that they land on the whole at the same time. Goral & Wiest (2007) found that when activities such as these are used with students. and sixteenth notes. while a half lasts two. eights. he will jump to the next line. Music notes include A whole note lasts four whole notes. While this may seem confusing. Pairs of students should each be . quarter notes. suggested by Ortiz (2006). which is “two-halves” (a whole) at the same time the other student jumps from the beginning of his number line to the whole. This can be adapted for any number of different fractions to teach equivalence. It is important to note that when the number line and music activities are used with students. beats. They also must jump on all fractional marks. the idea is that students understand the equivalences between the notes. an eighth a half. “one-half. for example. half notes. Students can also learn fractions through learning to read and count music in 4 time. it is best to begin by introducing only whole and half notes first. 2007). one will beat for each quarter note. one student will jump to one-half and state. et cetera. and a sixteenth a quarter of a beat. and sixteenths as students are ready. they enjoyed themselves and were able to relate the activities to their understanding of fractions when asked questions about fraction equivalence. a quarter one. eighth notes. For example. 4 which means the music has four beats per measure (Goral & Wiest. The goal again is for students to have an alternative and enjoyable way to learn fraction equivalence. Another game that can be used to teach students how to create and compare fractions is called the Roll Out Fractions game.

10. One such activity that can be helpful utilizes the idea of sharing food. 3. and the player(s) with the smallest fraction gets a point. Sharing concepts are a great beginning task to help students develop the understanding of a part-to-whole relationship (Kosbob & Moyer. 2006. p. it was found that “making these predictions helped the students develop a better sense of the relationships among fractions” (Ortiz. something to which even primary grade students will be able to relate (Powell & Hunting. 3. One activity that utilizes the skills of partitioning and iterating it is called “Picnicking . and drawing pictures. Kosbob & Moyer (2004) suggest having students work with fractions in meaningful problemsolving contexts that involve their writing descriptions. >. Once every player has taken a turn. because it shows them how fractions are a part of daily life. he tries to form the smallest fraction using the numbers that are face up. This game is approachable to students of a wide variety of levels because they can use manipulatives if needed to figure out what fraction would be the smallest. 4. As stated previously. When this game was tried out with a group of fourth-graders. Hopefully. children benefit from activities in which the concept of fractions is integrated into real-life types of experiences. 2. In fact. the students compare the fractions using <. 8. 2003). a study by Wing & Beal (2004) found that young children can often understand that when something is shared with three people for example. numbers. 5. one with numbers 1. each player will take turns rolling both cubes. to help them to develop and communicate their understanding of fractions. and 6. 4. 2. they will each get less that if it was shared with two. Basically. or =. 2004). This game can be altered in that students can be given a point if they have a larger fraction. Students can also adapt the game to a more advanced level by thinking about what fraction would be smaller in order for them to win the game. students will realize that understanding them is important for this reason. and one with numbers 1. After rolling.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 17 given two number cubes. 59).

and should show and explain how they split up the food using manipulatives. According 5 20 to the article. that both halves are the same size. The teacher should provide scaffolding and ask students questions as needed to help them. but that is because students need time to determine how to share the food as well as how to depict this. One group got the answer that each would get 1 4 . In this activity. the students benefitted greatly from seeing how they got the same answers through different methods. the teacher should lead the students in sharing solutions and strategies. students should be placed in groups of two to three. the students in this study were observed sharing equal parts of various foods at lunch. and can be used with young students as long as they understand the idea that fractional pieces with the same name from the same whole must be of equal sizes – i. pictures. in wholes).e. The teacher should give some examples so that they understand this idea of splitting food fairly. In fact. and written explanations. This is perfectly fine. however. In the study. without giving them a strategy. One particular problem asked the students to share 20 strawberries among 5 children. “these problems were an effective way to introduce a discussion about equivalent fractions” as well as enjoyable (Kosbob & Moyer. 377). This activity may take multiple class periods to complete. 2004. because this allows students to alter their schemas and create a new solution method. . p. The students must determine their own ways to split the food.e.” It was used in a study by Kosbob & Moyer (2004) with second graders. students can be asked to each make their own fraction lunch for a picnic. and another group. Once students have completed their picnic. .ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 18 with Fractions. and given a scenario in which they need to split some picnic food evenly so that it is fair. Something that may occur is that students will select a number of people and number of items that cannot be distributed evenly (i. As an extension activity related to the above.

75. According to Flores & Klein (2005). for example. when in fact. more advanced students who participate in an activity like this may actually make connections with fractions to division or decimals. 2007). thus. Third. This is a useful method because it relates fractions to time. they are related. First of all. by having students split up manipulatives that represent brownies for example. A teacher can introduce this idea simply by discussing the five-minute intervals as represented by the space between each number and the idea that each of these can be a fraction (Chick. in addition to the 5 fact that she is in fact acting out the division problem 8 ÷ 5. a student may realize that when splitting up 8 brownies. they are learning what equal ratios are. children can learn fractions by using an analog clock that includes numbers and marks between the numbers to learn fractions. into 5 parts. & Storeygard. By providing students with these types of situations that enable them to discover these connections. Tierney. “People who know the connection between division and fractions often switch back and forth between the two concepts with ease” (p. something that is an integral part of daily life. same amount as they may realize that splitting one brownie between two people gives the splitting two brownies between four people. but it also represents a fraction bar.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 19 Older. a teacher can have students solve division problems such as $7 ÷ 4 people to help students see the true meaning of a remainder in decimal or fraction form – how each person will get 1 3 dollars 4 or $1. This is crucial because children often view division and fractions as unrelated topics. Second. 454). that the fraction would be 8 . teachers can ask students to write division problems using the “/” which is on calculators to indicate division. The . teachers can empower students mathematically. Next. For students who have trouble discovering this relationship.

pattern blocks can be used to teach all fraction concepts and computation with fractions. and they said no. According to Roddick & Silvas-Centeno (2007). Upon discovering this during her work with fifth-grade students. an orange square. and they said no. The analog clock is useful for students to learn   as well as addition with fractions. “How many minutes is 1 1 of an hour plus of an hour?” Students can outline a fourth and 4 3 a third on the clock in succession and then count by fives (from each number to the next until he the end of the part). 2010). a researcher placed one of each of six different pattern blocks (a blue rhombus. or figure out how many twelfths that is equal to and then or she reaches multiply by five for example. a yellow hexagon. Another manipulative that can be used to develop conceptual understanding is pattern blocks. 6 . if it would be fair to give each of six friends one the pieces. and students told her it was   if each of the pieces was the same size. which is thirty-five minutes. As stated previously. She then asked students a series of questions including:  what the hexagon would be called in fraction form. must be equivalent from the same whole. They can learn how 5 1 is the same as by drawing four lines from each minute marking to the 60 12 center as well to partition each twelfth. Students will benefit from being able to relate fractions to a familiar concept of time as well as being able to have a concrete representation of the abstract concept of fractions. and a green triangle) together to form a “funky cookie” (Ellington & Whitenack.  1 . such as fourths. many children have trouble understanding that all fractional pieces with the same name. The teacher can pose problems such equivalence of fractions as.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 20 teacher can draw lines from the center of the clock to each number to represent twelfths. a tan parallelogram. a red trapezoid.

Some examples of these included a cookie of six blue rhombuses. 2007). They can stack the 6 2 pieces on top of their equivalent to see that they take up the same amount of area if needed to grasp the concept (Roddick & Silvas-Centeno. “Because understanding of equivalent fractions is critical to understanding the arithmetic algorithms involving fractions. she helped students realize that each sixth needed to be the same size. The students concluded that their sixths in their own cookies would be fairer than that of the “funky cookie. This idea of fair trade with pattern blocks can serve as a foundational activity. Students can be asked to trade a red trapezoid for three green triangles for example. It is 6 2 important to note that the teacher must be clear about what block represents the whole in order to eliminate confusion (Neumer. it is important for students to also be able to represent a . a cookie of six orange squares. p. In order to do this. 142). which they can relate to the idea that 3 1 = .ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 21 She then asked them to create a cookie using pattern blocks of their choice in which six friends could share the pieces and get the same amount. and a cookie of six green triangles. and used manipulatives and visuals that forced students to confront their misconceptions. Students can be given real-life word problems with fractions and pattern blocks to create a visual representation of the task at hand (Roddick & Silvas-Centeno. or a review when preparing to teach students computation. a series of activities with pattern blocks centered on the idea of fair trade will help students understand the ideas of fraction equivalence. students can be given a yellow hexagon representing the whole.” Because the researcher concentrated on the idea of fairness throughout the lesson. the idea of fair trade can be very useful” (Roddick & SilvasCenteno. a red trapezoid to represent 1 1 . Also. 2007. 2007). Remember. 2007). and a green triangle to represent .

“Pattern blocks and fair trades 3 can aid the students in making sense of real-world. multiplication. Then. Students will be more likely to . and division of fractions” (Neumer. they can move to an activity in which they learn computation concepts (Neumer. For example. p. This can also be used with multiplication: students can be asked to solve 2 x 4 for 6 example. 142). they could be asked to complete a fair trade 6 and discover that that is equivalent to 4 rhombuses. subtraction. 2007). Once students have mastered this activity. They would effectively trade four hexagons for the twelve rhombuses. they will be able to connect these concrete experiences with fractions to the algorithms used to teach arithmetic of fractions. 2007. be able to write and explain how before they move to computation and other activities (Neumer. and then realize that the problem is asking how many groups of 2 (or 2 rhombuses) can be made from 12 rhombuses? 3 They can manipulate and group the rhombuses to find that they can make six groups. so the answer is 6. They would then count them up to get 8 triangles. 2007). or 4 . if students were given the division problem 4 ÷ 2 . by simply getting two green triangles and making four groups of them. they would be able to use four yellow hexagons. and trade them for twelve blue 3 rhombuses. or 8 .ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 22 whole using various blocks. Thus. because three blue rhombuses cover the same area as one yellow hexagon. problems involving addition. Once students master the concept using pattern blocks.

First. The students should also be reminded that they are representing only the numerators. 5 They can see how whole numbers and fractions are combined. Underneath. Below that. which is crucial for conversion to an improper fraction (Neumer. They should get the same answer. it should say “3 wholes” and “ ” and finally. drawing. Then. and then three more cubes as the fraction piece (Neumer. have them write “1 whole + 1 whole + 1 whole” and keep the “ “3 3 3 ” next to it. 5 5 3 ”. This activity serves to make the idea of a mixed number more concrete to students. and label each individual cube as “ 1 5 ” as well as writing “ ” 5 5 underneath each whole number grouping. each student should be given twenty same-color unifix cubes and asked to represent a given mixed number. as well how many fractional parts are all together. have the students draw this on a paper. Have students multiply the total number of wholes by the number of cubes in each (fraction) and then add the fractional part. To have them physically see conversion from a mixed number to an improper fraction. 2007). By using this process. have them first add up the total number of cubes that they used to determine how many of that fractional piece they have (in the above example.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 23 understand the concept behind the algorithms. teacher will have introduced the algorithm to students in a way that is concrete rather than abstract. Unifix cubes can be used to help students understand the idea of mixed numbers and improper fractions. assuming that the teacher makes explicit connections to the pattern block activities. Have students line each grouping up next to each other. and . they should have 18). “The steps of building. 2007). Guide them in forming 3 3 for instance by 5 connecting five cubes together in three groups.

2007. It is important to note that students will need to complete many problems in this manner before they develop a strong understanding of such an abstract concept. Once students can complete conversion well using the cubes. conceptual and computational understanding of fractions can be taught through the use of benchmarks. number lines. 492). as well as the fact that the 4 remains the denominator. is the numerator of the fraction. This can also be used for conversion of improper fractions to mixed numbers. If the students are given the improper fraction 15 for 4 example. The teacher should emphasize that the number of remaining cubes. These three cubes will be connected and then represent the fraction. and manipulatives such as analog clocks. Neumer (2007) also suggests that these activities can be used as “a springboard for adding and subtracting mixed numbers” (p.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 24 explaining their work will help them develop the algorithm and gain ownership of the concept” (Neumer. p. in fact. Once students have grasped the idea that the bar in a fraction represents division. when in fact there are unlimited ways. this could lead to students believing that there is only one way to represent fractions. Therefore. They will end up with three groups of four and three single cubes left over. and unifix cubes. or remainder. they will begin connecting cubes into groups of four. The students will basically do the opposite of the procedure they used to find the improper fraction from the mixed number. Teachers need not select only one method of teaching fractions. pattern blocks. they should be able to complete it without manipulatives simply by remembering the process and visualizing the cubes. 490). because that is the denominator. the teacher can connect this to use with the unifix cubes. These manipulatives should be used in conjunction with real-life scenarios. and games in order for students to enhance understanding. Students . music.

and games. rather than simply procedural. such as the use of representations. teachers need to understand how fractions are integrated into rational numbers and number sense. various manipulatives. and that the possibility of developing a misconception is greatly reduced.ELIMINATING FRACTION FRUSTRATION 25 should be introduced to a variety of manipulatives. This can be done through introducing students to a number of methods for increasing conceptual understanding. Conclusion When teaching fractions in the elementary school. as well as the importance of developing conceptual. understanding of fractions. models. and visuals in order for them to understand the many different ways in which fractions can be represented. . personally relevant to their lives. models. A critical factor to remember is that these activities must be developmentally appropriate for students.

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