It goes without saying that teaching a new math concept will almost always benefit from a hands-on component. Fractions definitely fall into this category. My students were pretty bright this year and picked up most math concepts very quickly. However, fractions seemed to throw them for a loop.
They understood that the numerator was the colored section of the shape, but they wanted to use the rest of the fractional pieces as the denominator. For example, if a shape was divided into fifths and one was colored in, many would mistakenly name the fraction as one-fourth. One piece colored in, four left uncolored. It was an easy enough misconception to clear up though. One of the ways we did that was by getting hands-on – really hands-on – with Play-doh!
I gave them some direction at the beginning. I asked them to create a square and divide it into halves. Then I asked them to make a circle and divide it into thirds. I kept going in this way for a while and then asked them to show me one-half or two-thirds, etc. It really gave them a concrete idea of what a fractional part is and absolutely helped with their prior misconceptions. We progressed into larger fractions pretty quickly as they showed a very clear understanding of the concept that they previously struggled through.
Some tips if you decide to bust out the Play-doh:
1. Use the party favor-sized cans of Play-doh. They’re just enough for this type of lesson.
2. Let them use the Play-doh right on the desk or table. I first used a piece of paper to keep things clean, but the Play-doh stuck to the paper and became a more of a mess!
3. Give the kids plastic knives or popsicle sticks to cut shapes or make the fractional lines. They also work great to scrape up the finished shape or show a certain fractional part on your prompt.
4. The Play-doh container itself cuts a fantastic circle.
5. And last but not least, be sure to give them some time to play and explore before and after the lesson. It’s their natural urge, so don’t fight it.
Have fun my friends! Denise