Coming into this school year, I knew that the thing my fourth graders struggled with most last year was fractions. I remember chatting with the teacher they had for third grade math about their strengths and needs and fractions came up over and over again. After reading Beyond Pizzas & Pies and Beyond Invert and Multiply this past summer I had plenty of new ideas and lessons to try out but I still hadn't quite figured how I wanted to kick off this unit. This class in particular has a huge span of ability levels and experiences and I wanted everyone to be able to access this first lesson without it being to easy for half the class. I also wanted to provide them with a hands on experience using fractions in their world.
I decided to have them in mixed ability groups exploring some fraction manipulatives. I put a manipulative at each table along with a large piece of chart paper and a variety of markers. Their task was to explore the materials and write down anything they noticed. I had 4 stations each with different manipulatives. We used fraction bars, fraction circles, cuisinare rods and measuring cups and spoons.
I borrowed the sand table from Kindergarten and threw in a variety of measuring cups and spoons. Most of these I found this past summer at the Dollar Tree. The dark orange cups are a set of ancient Tupperware cups which I LOVE because they have a 2/3 and a 3/4 cup. These were so great for kids to use to explore non-unit fractions. Kids spent lots of time filling and ordering cups. They also liked filling and organizing the spoons. Because the sets included 1/2 cup, 1/2 tsp and 1/2 Tbsp kids were also able to explore the idea that the size of 1/2 can change based on the whole changing.
As students made discoveries, I had them jot them down on chart paper. This was a great way to record what they had discovered to share with the other students at the end of class. We also went back to this chart paper part way through the unit to review some ideas.
Each group had about 12 minutes at each station. We spent the last 15 minutes of class having each student share something they learned. We posted all the chart papers and refereed back to them as our unit progressed. I was able to keep the sand table for the first 2 weeks of the unit and several times I had kids (especially those in my intervention group) go back to the sand table to explore something specific around the ideas we were learning.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend starting off your fraction unit with this kind of hands on exploration. Even if you don't have access to a sand table, putting some measuring cups and spoons in a bucket of rice or a bowl of water would also give kids a similar experience.
Looking for more ideas for teaching fractions? Check out the Fly on the Math Teacher's Wall Blog Hop to get lots of great tips!
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