Fractions-A Piece of Cake? Or is Your Child Struggling With Maths?
Recently I have come across the work of a Maths Professor at Stanford University named Jo Boaler. A quote from her
“Many people grow up being told they are ‘not a math person’ or perhaps ‘not smart’; They come to believe their potential is limited.”
Through her research and collaboration with others, she has reached the conclusion that anyone can learn math as long as they apply a growth mindset to the process. This thinking has revolutionized mathematics in my homeschool and we are making progress that I had not been sure was possible. Through changing my thinking and removing the limiting beliefs around math we have been able to approach the subject from a different perspective. If you would like to read more the link to Jo’s book Limitless Mind is below.
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Fractions in Everyday Life
So getting back to the cake! Is your child struggling to grasp the concept of fractions? There are many real-world experiences that you can use to teach your child about fractions in their everyday life. First of all, teach your child that mistakes are ok and that mistakes grow our brains. Making a mistake causes the synapses on our neurons to make new connections with each other as we think through the problem and look for different ways to find the solution. However if we get frustrated, annoyed and angry at ourselves for not getting the problem right in the first place our brains are not free to look for solutions, they shut down and we just reinforce the limiting beliefs that we are “not a math person”.
Learning fractions can be a really abstract idea so the more that we can show children real-life examples of fractions the easier it is for them to understand what fractions mean and how they work in real life. For example, the mandarin which is on the right, in the picture above, has nine segments. Ask your child, how many pieces they can see? Explain that when we are talking about fractions we are looking at parts of a whole. Then show them that 1 segment can be shown as the fraction 1/9 because we have one segment out of the nine.
Definition – A Fraction is part of a whole
At home, it is actually really easy to find some great examples of fractions. From the fridge to the walls there are fractions all around us. How often would you use a word, in a conversation, to describe things that are fractions? You might say things like “at half-past six we will eat tea”, or “we need 2 thirds of a cup of sugar for the cake”. The problem is that we rarely extend our vocabulary of fractions beyond this in everyday language unless we consciously try to include this in our conversations. Maths is actually a language and many children trip up on the words used in maths because they don’t know or understand the vocabulary.
When you are first helping your child to see fractions at home start with half and quarters. Look everywhere for half and quarters. Cut cakes into halves and quarters. Find things that are different shapes and explore with your child how they can see half and a quarter of the object. Even everyday things like folding up laundry can be an exploration of fractions. Fold the tea towels in halves and then quarters. Understanding these fractions will help your child when they are learning to tell the time as this is a common area that we use vocabulary for half and quarter. Next to your clock, you could put post-it notes with ¼ past, ½ past, and ¼ to so that your child can see the relationship in the division of time and the divisions of a circle. Try asking your child questions to discover the information rather than just telling them the answers. For example, you might say ‘How many quarters do we need to make a half or a whole?’
So once the kids have the halves and quarters down you can then introduce more fractions. If the kids ask questions about fractions they see while you are still working on ½ and ¼ then discuss it with them because their mind is in a place of inquiry and wanting to explore the information. You may have pizza for dinner and your child notices that the pizza is cut into eight pieces. You can then have a conversation at dinner about how the pizza is cut into eighths and how you shared the pieces between each person. Or what about that Zucchini slice you made for dinner; as you are cooking ask your child “how many pieces will we need for everyone to have an equal part?”
So a great way to test and see if your child is getting the concept of fractions is to make a lovely pie or slice and tell your child to cut up the food to divide evenly between family/friends and they can have the smallest piece. It’s amazing how equal the portions are! Yes, fifths are difficult but they’ll be incentivised (my husband learnt this early).
Baking in the kitchen leads to loads of opportunities for learning fractions. There are 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 measures in spoons and cups. An easy recipe that I have used with my kids is a pancake recipe.
1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk or alternative
1 pinch of salt
Combine ingredients and then cook on a well oiled flat base pan. Flip when bubbles appear on the surface.
I often like to challenge my kids to make the cup of flour with different cup measures. For example, use the 1/3 cup 3 times to make 1 cup of flour. You can also double the recipe and give your child 2/3 cup measure and see if they can work out how many they need to make 2 cups of flour. What favourite recipe do you have that you could adapt to help you kids visualise fractions?
Ok, so enough about food it’s making me hungry! Where else are fractions used in real life? Go on a maths walk and see what fractions you can see in your streetscape and environment. Think about objects you can see that repeat themselves like power poles, fence posts, driveways and houses. You could look at the total number of cars on your street and work out what fraction of the cars are white. Teach your child that first, we need to count the total number of the cars and write this as the bottom number (the technical name is “denominator”) of the fraction and then we need to count the white cars and write that as the top number (this is called the “numerator”).
Can this fraction then be made simpler? Is there as a number that both the top and bottom numbers can be divided by? Example 3/6 top and bottom can be divided by three to make 1/2. If you would like some more ideas for finding fractions all around you then check out this You Cubed link here.
Where else can we discover fractions? Well, I know that roughly only 1/10 of an iceberg shows above water but how do I show my child this when I don’t live anywhere near ice? How about discovering a lovely nature documentary together and have a game to see how big a list you can work together on to record any fractions that you see. Or what about doing an experiment with some ice cubes and see if they have the same effect as an iceberg? There are loads of kids science books available now so check out your local library to find some science activities that you can also use to see fractions.
Hmm, any other parents out there now want to teach their children fractions just as an excuse to make that raspberry ripple cheesecake?! Feel free to leave your comments below this blog post and check out the links below for some products which may help with teaching your child fractions.
Check our my Visual tasks for exploring Percentage on Teachers Pay Teachers
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