Fractions are challenging. Multiplying fractions is really challenging! This post presents a Google Jamboard to introduce students to the concept of multiplication of fractions.
The artifact is chunked to incrementally move from multiplication of whole numbers to whole number and fraction to multiplication of fractions. The representation of multiplication as number of objects in a group times number of groups is the structure used throughout. Cookies on a plate is the context used to draw upon prior knowledge and make the idea more concrete.
This serves as an introduction. Each chunk can be followed by practice before moving on to the subsequent chunk.
The Jamboard starts with a representation of multiplication as groups of objects, first with the number of objects in a group and the number of groups. This is presented first as cookies per person to connect to prior knowledge. Then presented per plate as the plate is subsequently used to model the fractions.
First, whole number times a fraction is presented. This allows for a connection to prior knowledge and introduces fractions in this representation. There are still 6 cookies per group, but now there is only 1/2 a group.
The students can move the cookies onto the plate to see the group of objects. Then they can cut the group in half.
To help make sense of the fractions used in the multiplication of two fractions, the fractional parts of the cookies are presented first.
For multiplication of fractions, the process is the same. There is 1/4 of a cookie in each group, then there is 1/2 a group. As was done previously, 1/2 the group is removed. Conceptually, you can explain to the students that they have 1/4 of a cookie and they split it with a friend.
The concept of fractions as some number of equal parts begins in 1st grade per the Common Core (image below). There are students who struggle with the idea of equal parts and this could undermine student work in subsequent topics. The activity cited in this post is designed to develop the concept of equal parts.
Jamboard with Sharing Slides
The following images are from a Jamboard used as an introduction to equal parts activity (see photo at the end for access). The activity is chunked to incrementally present more of the ideas underlying equal parts. The use of the Jamboard can be viewed in a FB Reel and on YouTube.
First, the idea of equal is addressed by presenting a situation in which two students are sharing candy. Partitioning out pieces alludes to the set notation of fractions.
The idea of sharing equal amounts transition to sharing a single candy that can be broken into parts. The candy bar image is actually two images of parts. The a non equal sharing is used to unpack equal parts. This is continued for a circular shape and a triangular-ish shape.
Jamboard with Mathy Slides
There are additional slides to do more “mathy” work with equal parts. First, the students are asked to choose the shape that was cut into equal part (rectangle, circle, triangle). Then the students partition the shapes but with a dotted line as scaffolding.
Each shape can be connected to the food images from above. For example, the student may intuitively understand that a pizza is cut from the crust to the tip. I use pizza fractions to unpack the need for common denominators, which reinforces the significance of the concept of equal equal parts cited previously.
Here is an image of an accompanying worksheet. It draws upon the images from the Jamboard and follows the same sequence.
Accessing the Jamboard
The image below shows how to make a copy of the Jamboard in order to use it.
The fractional units of a ruler and measuring fractional lengths can be tricky, especially for students with processing, working memory, or visual related disabilities. For the students I have helped, here is the approach I have used.
I relate the fractional marks and counting them to walking across a set of stepping stones. This ties into their prior knowledge and allows for a hands on activity of moving the girl across the stones.
I present the girl and the stepping stones as the setting. Then I explain that she will take steps to walk across the stepping stones to the other side. Students count stones to determine steps. Below is an image of a Jamboard that allows for moving the girl.
Below is an image of a handout I use to address this prior knoweldge.
Division of fractions may be one of the most abstract concepts in middle school math. Here is an approach to address the concept using a Google Jamboard (you can make a copy which allows you to edit it), which would be a foundation for the ensuing steps. I will preface this approach by stating the obvious. Because this is very abstract and challenging for students, the approach is more complex – no royal road to dividing fractions.
To unpack this concept I start with the concept of division itself. One interpretation is distributing a collection of items into equal groups to determine how many items in each group. That lends itself well to dividing by a fraction. In the example below, I show 6 cookies divided into two groups to get 3 cookies per group. That is the goal, identify the per group amount.
Then we introduce a fraction. 6 divided by 1/2 can be stated in the group context as 6 cookies for half a plate or for half a group.
But we want a whole plate, a whole group. How do we get that? We need another half group which ends up revealing that we multiply by 2. (Keep in mind that the goal here is to unpack the concept and not so much the actual steps yet.)
Now we can turn our attention to the full dividing fractions situation. The approach is the same as the whole number divided by a fraction; we start with the fractional item in the fractional group. Then we build the whole plate (group) which results in building the whole cookies. At the end I take a stab at showing the mathy steps but I am unsure how I would unpack the steps at this point – again, focusing on the concept in this activity. I think I would not show the steps and have the students simply do hands on building a whole group, by manipulatives and subsequently by drawing.
I recently worked with a student on an online grocery shopping activity – finding ingredients for mac and cheese. We had the ingredients listed in a column on a Google Doc (allows both of us to edit the doc simultaneously) and then he cropped and pasted a photo of each ingredient (see photo below). The goal was for him to identify the total he need and the total cost in planning for actual shopping or to continue with the online shopping. Note: he wasn’t actually buying anything at this point but this was a step in preparing him to do so.
This activity is dense with math tasks and shopping related tasks. The math tasks include the following:
Identify the price (vs quantity of the item or unit price).
Interpret the quantity for the ingredient.
Identify the units (oz and cups)
Compare amount in box with amount needed.
Determine how much more is needed, if any.
Compare choices before selecting the item, (Barilla Pasta vs another brand).
To convert units, the “mathy” approach can be used or the student may simply use an app. For this student we chose an online unit converter (see below). This is more complicated that it appears. The student must choose the units and the order (in this case convert cups to ounces or vise versa), distinguish between imperial and US cups, understand that you enter the quantity (the search results in 1 US ounce appearing by default), and then interpret the decimal (keep in mind the ingredient quantities are in fractions).
Life skills math is more complex and challenging that parents and educators may realize. As a result, the planning for developing these skills should begin much sooner rather than later – not to mention the actual logistical tasks of shopping, e.g. finding an item in the grocery store.
To help students learn how to measure with a ruler, I focus on minimizing the number of tic marks on the ruler at first. The image below shows an excerpt from a WORD document with a halves ruler that I use and an instructional strategy. It also contains a quarters and an eighths ruler that students can slide around the WORD document as shown above and in a video explaining this artifact and how I created it.
This is useful for distance learning as well as in class. Here is a link to the WORD document with the rulers shown in the video.
It is easy to get caught up in the steps and rote memorization when working with fractions. The brain processes information more effectively when the information is meaningful. ADHD makes paying attention to rote memorization of steps even more challenging.
Below is an excerpt of work I completed with a middle school student who has ADHD. This was completed extemporaneously as intervention (you see his initial attempt was incorrect) but can be used as Universal Design in whole class instruction.
Here is a break down of how I helped the student after seeing his mistake in his initial attempt. First, I modeled the first mixed number as pizza pies.
Then I presented the problem in pizza terms. “You have 3 pies and 1 slice and you are going to give me 1 pie and 2 slices. Do you have enough slices?” <wait for response> “You don’t, so what can we do?” <wait for response> “We cut up one of the pies.” I have the student cut the pie into fourths.
I then make the connection with the mixed number and guide the student to taking away 1 pie and writing 4/4. This provides more concrete meaning for writing 1 as 4/4.
In turn, this provides meaning for the new mixed number and meaning for the subtraction of the whole numbers (pies) and the fractions (slices).
We explain steps in great detail to students but often omit the underlying concept. The topic of adding or subtracting fractions with unlike denominators is an example of this.
The example above right is a short cut for what is shown above left. These short cuts, which math teachers love to use, add to the student’s confusion because these rules require the student to use rote memorization which does is not readily retained in the brain.
I suggest using what I call a meaning making approach. I present the student 2 slices of pizza (images courtesy of Pizza Fractions Game) and explain the following setting. “You and I both paid for pizza and this (below) is what we have left. You can have the pizza slice on the left and I will have the pizza slice on the right. Is that OK?” The student intuitively understands that it is not because the slices are different sizes. I then explain that when we add fractions we are adding pizza slices so the slices need to be the same.
I then cut the half slice into fourths and explain that all the slices are the same size so we can now add them. Then the multiplying the top and bottom by 2 makes more sense.
A widespread problem at the secondary level is addressing basic skills deficiencies – gaps from elementary school. For example, I often encounter students in algebra 1 or even higher level math who cannot compute problems like 5÷2. Often the challenges arise from learned helplessness developed over time.
How do we address this in the time allotted to teach a full secondary level math course? We cannot devote class instruction time to teach division and decimals. If we simply allow calculator use we continue to reinforce the learned helplessness.
I offer a 2 part suggestion.
Periodically use chunks of class time allocated for differentiation. I provide a manilla folder to each student (below left) with an individualized agenda (below right, which shows 3 s agendas with names redacted at the top). Students identified through assessment as having deficits in basic skills can be provided related instruction, as scheduled in their agenda. Other students can work on identified gaps in the current course or work on SAT problems or other enrichment type of activities.
Provide instruction on basic skills that is meaningful and is also provided in a timely fashion. For example, I had an algebra 2 student who had to compute 5÷2 in a problem and immediately reached for his calculator. I stopped him and presented the following on the board (below). In a 30 second conversation he quickly computed 4 ÷ 2 and then 1 ÷ 2. He appeared to understand the answer and this was largely because it was in a context he intuitively understood. This also provided him immediate feedback on how to address his deficit (likely partially a learned behavior). The initial instruction in a differentiation setting would be similar.
Fractions is one of the most challenging math topics. Many high school and college students struggle to some degree with fractions. The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS), despite all the criticism, includes components to address the conceptual understanding of fractions. Below is a photo showing a 4th grade Common Core standard regarding fractions along with an objective for a class lesson I taught at an elementary school in my district. I subsequently presented on this at the national CEC conference in 2014. Notice the bold font at the bottom, ¨justify…using a visual fraction model.¨ The photo above shows an example of a model I used in class.
The photo below shows a handout I used in the lesson. The first activity involved having students create a Lego representation of given fractions. These would eventually lead to the photo at the top with students comparing fractions using Legos. The students were to create the Lego model, draw a picture version of the model then show my co-teacher or I so we could sign off to indicate the student had created the Lego model.
The Lego model is the concrete representation in CRA. In this lesson I subsequently had students use fractions trips (on a handout) and then number lines – see photos below.