Many students have trouble with fractions. When I taught at a high school, my 10th and 11th grade students regularly had difficulty performing operations with fractions. As an 8th grade teacher, I’ve tried to help my students develop, refine, and maintain strong fraction skills. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t consider fluency in performing operations with fractions to be the most important skill for my students to have, but it’s certainly one that will contribute to their success at the high school level. With that in mind, here’s an approach I used this year to work on fractions.
After the warmup and overview of the day’s class some time in October, I pulled up a slide with four fraction multiplication problems. These first ones were relatively simple like . Students had little trouble performing the multiplication (yay!), and thankfully, students presented a number of different methods. The most common early responses were and . As I continued to present problems over the next few weeks, I added complications. Students noticed that simplifying often made the multiplication easier (e.g. ). The big breakthrough came when I presented a particularly annoying pair of fractions to multiply like . To this point, I had not pushed students to use a particular method; any simplifying they did came from them not me. Whoever offered the response of did not respond kindly to the question of whether that fraction could be simplified. By this point, students had been doing so much simplifying that it was no surprise to anyone that their lives would be easier if they found a way to simplify before multiplying. A brief discussion of the commutative property allowed a student to rewrite the multiplication as , which everyone in the classroom felt comfortable multiplying. It was a great moment of mathematical discovery.
As the weeks progressed, I continued to throw more and more challenging multiplication problems at them, and I also started to incorporate some addition, subtraction, and division. Students began feeling much more comfortable with fractions than they ever had before, even if they still weren’t the biggest fraction fans around. This fraction work paid off when we wrote equations of lines, and in general, I think it gave students some confidence in an area where they had so little before.
I definitely plan to continue using “Get On My Fraction Level” in my classes this coming school year. I’d like to find a way to incorporate more active participation. I might give students a weekly template to use each day when we do our fractions. I did that two years ago with scientific notation, and it worked pretty well. One big concern is time: with so many topics to cover, it’s difficult to carve out time to work on something that isn’t really an 8th grade standard. Having seen how working with fractions helped so many of my students grow, however, I will definitely find a way to incorporate regular fraction work into my lessons.