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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hands on Fraction Fun

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!

I posted a new Valentine product today!  It is a great way to give your kiddos extra practice with double digit subtraction.


  1. That sounds like such a smart idea. I never would have thought of using sand and measuring cups with grade four students. I think that's brilliant! We're always thinking hands on exploration with the young ones, but the older kids benefit, too.

  2. This seems like a great way to help visual and tactile learners be able to visualize fractions! I'd have loved this resource as a kid myself, actually. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this blog. One idea that would be great to think about to help students learn new strategies would be doing number talks in your classroom. The article “Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning” by Sherry D. Parrish is a great resource. Number talks involve five to fifteen minute conversations around purposefully chosen computation problems. Having students do number talks helps students compute more accurately, efficiently, and flexibly. There are five essential components to number talks. These components are classroom environment and community, classroom discussions, a shift in the teacher’s role, mental math, and purposeful computation problems (Parrish, 2011). Jo Boaler, a professor at Standford, also has some great video resources about growth and fixed mindset. In one video, “Jo Boaler: The Brain Science on Growth Mindset,” she explains how the praise that we give to students contributes to their mindset. We need to be careful not to praise students for being smart. We should instead praise students for what they accomplish. We also need to tell our students that everybody can learn math. I like how the students in your fraction lesson were able to learn that half of 1 is ½ and half of ½ is ¼, and half of ¼ is 1/8. This is a helpful activity to help students get passed the misconception of 1/8 being bigger than ¼ because 8 is a bigger number than 4. I also liked how you had hands-on manipulatives for your students to use and did not just teach them the standard algorithm. Thanks for the great ideas!