# 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 Kerryana Medlin. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: dividing fractions. How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

One of the more practical uses of dividing fractions is cooking. Anybody who has baked in the past will know that sometimes one does not possess the proper measuring cup for the job and that they have to crunch some numbers. (This happens a lot when in college.)

The basic idea behind the activity is to ask the students to follow a recipe using a 1/3 cup measuring cup and a teaspoon. This will also allow them to practice dividing whole numbers by fractions, which strengthens to concept as well. They will be reminded that a whole number can be expressed as the number over one.

The ingredient list would be as follows:

Treats:

5-6 cups of rice cereal

1 cup of marshmallow fluff

1/3 cup of sprinkles

Buttercream:

½ cup unsalted butter

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract

1-3 teaspoons of milk

They would be asked to figure out how many 1/3 cups each component would take. This would also help the students to use the skill of adding fractions (1 and ½ being 3/2) before dividing. The recipe would ultimately make rice cereal treats with icing on top (enough for the entire class). This is envisioned as an activity in which the students work either individually or in small groups to do the calculations and then come together as a class to provide answers and give me the proper amount of ingredients to put into the recipe. How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

Dividing fractions involves prior knowledge from fractions, generally. If dividing by flipping the dividend and then multiplying the resulting two fractions, the student must use their knowledge of multiplication of fractions and inverses, assuming that they have learned anything about inverses at this point. If the student is taught to find the greatest common denominator first, then they will use their knowledge of greatest common denominators and basic division to find the quotient. They will also be reminded of the concept of whole numbers being expressed as fractions in this topic. How did people’s conception of this topic change over time?

Originally, division of fractions would have been thought of in terms of practical use only and was likely conceptual since the symbolism of fractions was not the clearest. An example of fraction systems that were more difficult to comprehend, would be the Egyptian system, since they would add together unit fractions to represent non-unit fractions, unless it was fraction that had a repeating unit fraction, such as 2/7 = 1/7 + 1/7 (Weisstein). When symbols became clear, the division was done by taking the fractions, finding their common denominator, then dividing the numerators and denominators, leaving the quotient. The Babylonians mostly used the method of taking the inverse of the divisor and then multiplying by the dividend (O’Connor and Robertson, 2000). This is still a popular method. Today we can do either, but some believe that doing this operation algebraically might be better for students because thinking about division of fractions in only a practical sense will stifle their imagination (Ahia and Fredua-Kwarteng, 2006).

References:

Ahia, Francis and Fredua-Kwarteng, E.. (2006) Understanding Division of Fractions: An Alternative View.

O’Connor, J. and Robertson E.. (2000). An overview of Babylonian mathematics. Retrieved from

http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/HistTopics/Babylonian_mathematics.html