Holly Swinton: dyslexia speaker, trainer, author and assessor » News » Practical Fractions (stop doing worksheets)

Practical Fractions (stop doing worksheets)

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Children learn Maths via concrete (hands-on) progressing to visual (pictures) and then finally to abstract (numbers and symbols on the page).  The problem with most maths teaching is that there isn’t enough of concrete and visual.

Lots of teenagers struggle with fractions (particularly dyslexic kids) and they really are mysterious if you can’t visualise what you’re doing.  So, the logical answer must be to get children to colour in lots of pies and rectangles? Well, yes, but who is doing the first step of lots of hands-on, concrete fraction work?   Certainly not schools.

There’s only one person who can turn them into a fractions whizz… you!  (Spoiler alert: the answer is always going to be you, sadly. Unless it’s you supervising, having delegated the fun bit to someone else.)

Because fractions get so complicated later on, it is worth recapping that they really understand how to read fractions, write fractions and use (the sometimes confusing) fraction vocabulary (e.g. half, third, quarter).

Give your child plenty of practical opportunities to understand:
• The more shares an item is split into, the smaller the parts will be (this is really tricky because it’s the opposite of our natural thinking)
• Fractions are just sharing/dividing (a fraction is like a division sign, with a number instead of a dot on the top and bottom)
• Sharing fairly is important (you have to make equal-sized groups)
• It is easier to cut downwards than upwards, which helps them to remember to cut/share/divide downwards

Practice reading and understanding basic fractions
Easy: start with one thing
Step 1: The bottom number tells you how many groups there are.
1a) Start off with one thing (e.g. a carrot, a pizza, a sandwich, bread dough, a piece of paper, a jug of fruit juice, a cup cake) and ask your child to cut it up/share it into the number of pieces shown by the bottom number.
Step 2: The top number tells you how many of the groups you get.
2a) Encourage your child to take the number of pieces shown by the top number.

Harder: start off with more than one thing
Step 1: The bottom number tells you how many groups there are.
1b) Share a number of things (e.g. small toys, sweets, raisins, buttons) into the number of groups shown by the bottom number.
Step 2: The top number tells you how many of the groups you get.
2b) Encourage your child to take the number of groups shown by the top number.

Practice saying / writing fractions
Easy: Show them an object (e.g. a stick of celery) cut into 3 pieces and give them 2 of the pieces, then ask them to say or write down the fraction (e.g. 2/3).

Harder: Show them a number of objects (e.g. six toys), put them into 3 groups and give them 2 of the groups (four toys), then ask them to say or write down the fraction (e.g. 2/3).

Check their understanding:
• Show them an object (e.g. a stick of celery) cut into 3 pieces and give them 2 of the pieces, then checks they can say or write down the fraction (e.g. 2/3).
• Show them a number of objects (e.g. six grapes), put them into 3 groups and give them 2 of the groups (four grapes), then ask them if they can say or write down the fraction (e.g. 2/3).
• Cook a pizza and ask them to put 2/5 of it on a plate for dinner.
• Bake 15 cupcakes and get them to decorate (say) 2/5 blue and 1/3 red and the rest white.