I used to struggle with how to teach fraction operations in a way that would allow students to grasp the deeper meaning beyond the algorithms. However, as soon as I realised that acting out the problem solves many of the issues that students experience, I struggled no more. Here's how it works.
I set up six different stations in the classroom. Each one poses a problem, asks students to act it out and then requires them to come up with a standard maths equation for how to solve it.
It's good to make the examples as active as possible, so I often place measuring cups and ingredients at one station, wood strips and rulers at another, and occasionally paper pizzas, too.
When students approach each station, they have to fill in a worksheet that has the following headings: "Draw a picture of what you did"; "Write an equation to represent your problem and solve the equation"; "Does the result of your equation match your results from acting it out?"; "Why or why not?"; and "What clues helped you to decide what operation to use?"
A sample problem could be: "On Friday night, John ate pizza for dinner and had half the pizza left over. On Saturday, he ate one-third of what was left. How much pizza did John eat on Saturday?"
After students have visited all the stations, the final step is for them to create their own problems for each operation. A great motivational tool is to tell them that you will use their suggestions for classes the following year. They tend to come up with some ingenious ideas.
The students really enjoy this lesson. It makes what can be a complicated task much easier, by taking them away from their exercise books and introducing real-world scenarios.
Cara Littlefield teaches 6th grade maths at High Tech High in San Diego, US
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