Engaging students: Dividing fractions

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Dale Montgomery. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: dividing fractions.

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A Short Play On Numbers

By: Dale Montgomery

You see two brothers talking in the playground.

Timmy: (little brother) Gee Jonny, it sure was a good idea to sell Joe our old Pokémon deck. Now he finally has some cards to play with and we have some money to buy some new cards.

Jonny: (older brother) Yeah, I am glad we could help him get started. He has been wanting some cards for so long. Ok, you have the money so give me half.

Timmy: Ummm… (puzzling) Jonny I don’t know how to make half of 6 dollars and fifty cents, can you help?

Jonny: Of course Timmy, I learned how to divide fractions last week… lets see. (Jonny writes on the board 6 and ½ divided by 1/2 and does the division)

Timmy: How is half more than what we started with?

Jonny: I don’t know, this is the way my teacher taught me to do it. I guess you just have to find 13 dollars to give me so I can have half.

End Scene

Teacher: So class, what did Jonny do?

I came up with this idea thinking about the student asked question regarding dividing pie in half. I feel this could be a common misconception that would be addressed if we could teach students to think about math in context, rather than just a process. Dividing fractions is not the easiest thing to conceive. This short skit could be presented in any number of formats. I like the idea of having some sort of recorded show, just because it would make the intro to class go much faster. This skit introduces a situation that is very similar to word problems that children do. Also, the content can easily be modified to fit the majority class interest. For example it could have been an old Nintendo DS game that the brothers no longer play. This puts a problem that could be very real for the students right in front of them to figure out the correct process. It could lead to good discussion and make for a good lesson on dividing fractions.


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Fraction bars are great tools to help students visualize dividing fractions. For example, if you wanted to divide 2/3 by 1/6 you would line up two of the third bars alongside one of the sixth bar and find out how many times that fraction goes into 2 thirds. In this case it would be four. Fractions themselves are extremely difficult to visualize, and dividing by fractions seems conceptually ridiculous.  It can be difficult to adjust student’s thinking to this area. A manipulative like fraction bars are a good starting point in helping kids understand just how fractions work.



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Curriculum, future uses

The topic of dividing fractions has many uses in future courses. Primarily these will be in algebra 1 and 2 for most students. Having a good conceptual knowledge of fractions will help students tremendously in these courses. As an algebra student you would be required to use your knowledge of fractions on an almost daily basis. Being introduced to the concept of multiple variables and canceling them out as you divide polynomials is a very complicated process that gets even more complicated if you do not understand fractions. Laying this conceptual framework is important when you consider all that students must use these concepts for at the higher level math classes. As you consider this in the lessons don’t forget the previous concepts held here such as grouping into equal parts and counting by intervals (3,6,9).



One thought on “Engaging students: Dividing fractions

  1. This is an excellent tutorial in learning how to divide fractions. For me, the standard rule of dividing fractions is very important to be understood deeply to avoid confusion. The rule state that you have to invert the divisor fraction and apply the rule of multiplication of fraction. This means that you need to understand first the rule of multiplication of fraction. If there is doubt in the answer, I think fraction solver from https://www.fractioncalc.com/fraction-solver is a good reference.

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