Teaching Fractions Made Easy

January 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Learning about fractions can be difficult for the average second or third grader. A new study at Temple University might ease their math anxiety. The research suggests there may be a better way to teach fractions, rather than the traditional method of using a pie shape and shading it.

One of the first things children master along with their ABCs are their one, two, threes. But when children move beyond whole numbers and are introduced to fractions, understanding parts of a whole, such as one-fourth versus two-thirds, it can be tricky. Temple University psychology researchers ran a study with 114 second and third graders to determine whether using a number line, rather than dividing a circle and shading it, makes it easier for kids to understand what fractions represent.

Elizabeth Gunderson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University told Ivanhoe, “One group had a 15 minute fraction lesson about how to place fractions onto a number line. The second group had a lesson about how to shade a circle into fractions and the third group got a control condition, which was just doing crossword puzzles.  We wanted to see if they weren’t doing anything to teach them fractions, how they would do.”

This led researchers to determine that number lines are powerful tools for early learners of fractions.

Gunderson said, “It’s organized from left to right and the kids already have some idea about how the smaller numbers go on the left and larger numbers go on the right. They might have those ideas from working with whole numbers and now they can apply that from left to right, smaller to larger, to understand how fractions are related to each other in terms of their size.”

To support their children’s learning, it’s important for parents to work fractions into their daily lives.  Think about baking; show kids the size difference between cutting one-quarter of a stick of butter for cookies and one-third of a stick of butter, much like a number line.

Researchers say early understanding of math concepts like fractions predicts greater student success in grades four and five.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Bob Walko, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Spanish Translation

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Para un estudiante promedio de segundo o tercer grado, entender el concepto de fracción puede ser complicado, pero un nuevo estudio de la Universidad de Temple ha determinado que hay una mejor forma de enseñar fracciones que usando el método tradicional del pastel cortado en pedazos.

Junto con el ABC, los niños aprenden el 1, 2, 3.

Pero cuando los estudiantes comienzan a aprender las fracciones, entender el concepto de partes, que es 1 cuarto o que son dos tercios, es más complicado. 114 estudiantes de segundo y tercer grado participaron en un estudio para determinar que era más útil para explicar las fracciones: la recta numérica o el pastel o circulo dividido en porciones.

Los investigadores determinaron que la recta numérica es una poderosa herramienta para los estudiantes que comienzan a estudiar las fracciones. Los padres deben de apoyar el estudio incorporando fracciones en la vida diaria: al hornear galletitas, mostrarles la diferencia entre cortar un cuarto y un tercio de una barra de mantequilla, creando una recta numérica comestible. Porque entender el concepto de fracción es un paso clave para el éxito en las matemáticas en el futuro.

Según los investigadores, una comprensión temprana de las fracciones predice un mayor éxito del estudiante cuando llega a cuarto y quinto grado.

Los contribuyentes a este reportaje incluyen: Cyndy McGrath, Supervisora Productora; Donna Parker, Productora de Campo; Milvionne Chery, Productora Assistente;Bob Walko, Editor; Kirk Manson, Camarografo.

Producido por Child Trends News Service en asocio con Ivanhoe Broadcast News y auspiciado por una beca de la National Science Foundation.