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The Value of Mastering Fractions

Mathematics is all about building blocks. You basically need to understand one concept (block) before you can move onto the next. In an ideal teaching environment, the teacher will only move onto the next concept, when all the children in the class completely understand the current concept. Unfortunately, class sizes, time tables and syllabi force teachers to move on, even when many of the children are still struggling to grasp the current concept.

It therefore goes without saying, that some children will have gaps in their mathematics education that will have a definite influence on their future understanding of new concepts.

Recent research confirms that one of the major concepts that should be completely mastered in math is fractions. Fractions form the foundation for algebra in higher Grades, and later geometry and statistics. It is critical that your child masters the basic concepts of fractions to avoid future problems with mathematics.

In previous years, fractions were taught using pie charts (the ‘pizza method’), but this has proven not to be as effective as thought. Think about it, if you compare a pizza divided into eight slices to one divided into six slices, the difference isn’t that obvious. But, if you use a number line or a fraction wall and show 1/8 and 1/6, the difference in size is much more obvious.


“In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal article, placing fractions on a number line in the correct order in third grade is a more important predictor of fourth-grade math performance than calculation skills or even the ability to pay attention.” Blythe Grossberg, 

It is also important to note that no calculations with fractions should be attempted if the concept of fraction values has not been established. Students should completely master the concept of fraction values and composition before trying any advanced fraction calculations.

Tips to help your child master fractions:

  • Teaching of fractions should be concreteUse A4 board paper and divide, for example, one page into eight equal-sized rectangles and the other into five equal-sized rectangles. Use this to teach that the denominator (number DOWN under) determines the number of equal pieces the whole is divided into. This will visually show the child that 1/5 is bigger than 1/8.

Immediately transfer this information to a number line, showing 1/5 and 1/8 on the line.

Now introduce the numerator (the number of pieces we are working with NOW). Ask your child to compare eg. 2/5 with 3/8 to see which one is bigger.

  • Reinforce fraction-concepts in daily life

How many slices has the cake been divided into? What fraction of the cake will you eat? What fraction is left over?

What fraction of the friends you invited to your party will be able to attend?

What fraction of the cars in the car park is white?

If your paving in the driveway is made up of identical sized paving tiles, use chalk to divide it into different fractions with different denominators.

  • Don’t ignore the problem

Fractions are introduced in Grade 3 and reinforced in Grade 4, but from Grade 5, children will move onto the next level, which includes addition, subtraction and multiplication of fractions. If your child is not on top of the basic concepts, spend time to ensure that he or she completely grasps the basic building blocks, before fractions become a nightmare.



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