Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 31 2011

Conceptual Understanding: Fractions

This year, my school has scheduled in a 30-minute block for “Enrichment” for every kid. Struggling readers go to Reading Enrichment. If they don’t need reading help but struggle in math, they go to Math Enrichment. If they need neither, they go do fun projects.

It’s awesome because every kid has enrichment, and no kid has to miss regular class time to get extra help. That means we can’t do damage or slow kids down in enrichment. It’s completely bonus time, so we can just do whatever we want, at whatever speed we want, for however long we want. IT IS GENIUS.

My students have always struggled enormously with fractions. They have little understanding of what fractions even are, and have made valiant efforts to memorize senseless rules to absolutely no avail. They get lost, frustrated, don’t understand the point, and shut down entirely when they see a fraction. Remember how a third of my kids last year couldn’t tell me that you need 3 thirds to make a whole? Obviously, I want to focus on conceptual understanding of fractions in my enrichment block.

Luckily, I silently prowl the TFA content communities (if you have access to TFAnet, start using them right now! There’s so much amazing idea-sharing going on) and stumbled upon an incredible resource shared by Math Ed Genius Cameron Byerley. It’s a free research-based fraction curriculum (seriously) designed to really build conceptual understanding of fractions from nothing. In the first couple lessons, you don’t even name the fraction pieces numerically because the kids are so busy playing with them and learning how the different colors go together. It’s scripted, so you know all the right questions to ask and when to ask them and what responses to anticipate. I don’t know anyone who has used it before, but I got a few people I trust to review it for me and it looks really good. Plus, it’s definitely more conceptually sound than anything me and my eighth-grade-only experience would ever have invented alone, so it can’t hurt. I’m so excited about it.

I’m only two lessons in, but the kids love it so far. I have no idea how they don’t complain about the low level, but they’re usually too engrossed in playing with the colored pieces (which it took HOURS and $48 dollars on card stock at Staples to make) to talk. Today, we covered the black circle (1 whole) using a yellow (1/2 of the whole) and two blues (1/4 of the whole each), and then debated whether that meant that the yellow was one-third of the whole. Plenty of kids thought yes, since there were 3 pieces, and plenty thought no, since they weren’t the same size. Hands shot up to argue it out. Finally, we agreed that they need to be the same size, since we’d just noticed that yellow was one-half of the whole a few minutes before. By the end of our 30 minutes, we were all confident that three pieces need to be equally sized to be considered thirds. Sounds simple, but we did not start there. I was in Math Teacher HEAVEN watching it all happen.

One Response

  1. This is really amazing! I think the best part is the enrichment block that your school has set aside, giving every student the opportunity to have additional help in the subject(s) where they most need it, and yet not singling out those students who are behind. If only all schools implemented such a plan!

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