Fraction Games for Kids
Please welcome my guest author, Nerd Math Mom Fun! I met her on Twitter and I’m thrilled that she is writing on fractions. I have to confess that I made my son (2nd grade) play math apps yesterday while we were waiting at the soccer field because he had too much screen time playing games yet we had a hour to kill while his sister warmed up before her game.
He chose a basic free fractions app called Pizza Fractions that he found by searching Free Math Apps on my iPhone. With just three answers to choose from, you choose the correct fraction of the pizza. If you are wrong, GAME OVER. I liked how the pizza slices show equivalent fractions: 1/2 of a pizza looks exactly the same as 2/4.
Fractions, like word problems, get more complicated and therefore less intuitive by the time kids hit 5th and 6th grade. It’s a gift to give them a sense that fractions ARE fun and grasp these intuitive abstract concepts of comparative sizes of fractions (whole, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4) and equivalent fractions. And to get this by playing games just makes it fun! Thanks MathNerdMomFun. Thanks for making math fun!
When PragmaticMom suggested I could guest post for her, I swear my first thought was “She knows I’m a big old dork, right? That I’m going to post about math things and make horrible puns and be all sorts of geekily awkward?” Turns out, the answers to those thoughts are “yes” and “that’s okay”… So now I get to inflict FRACTIONS on you all! *cue evil laugh*
As a means of introduction, I should let you know that I’m more than a little obsessed with fractions.
When on long drives, where some people play find-the-letter-on-the-sign or listen to books on tape, I make and reduce fractions in my head (i.e. we’ve driven 47/50 of the way on 71/100 of the gas in the tank). I’m not joking. My blog readers know the embarrassing story of the time my husband walked in on me cooking and explaining how 1/4 was smaller than 1/2, even though 4 is bigger than 2… to the 8-month-old.
So you can IMAGINE my delight at a recent study that finds a student’s comfort in manipulating fractions at age 9-10 is a predictor of math success throughout high school. *thumbs nose at naysayers* Which begs the question – how do we get our kids comfortable manipulating fractions at age 9-10?
My philosophy from teaching high school and remedial adult learners is that a lot of fear with fractions comes from the unfamiliarity. The more practice (and earlier the practice) that happens with the language and rules of fractions, the more intuitive a student becomes. And (speaking as a teacher), my FAVORITE moment is when a student gets an answer, looks at it, and says “but that doesn’t make SENSE!” Because that shows me they have an intuition for the problem, and had a class of answers that they expected.
For the early set (toddlers and preschool), talking about fractions can be easily roped into those million counting – alphabet – color conversations you have all. the. time. All you have to tack on is a comparison of the part and the whole. For example: if you’re counting cars that drive by the restaurant, let’s say you count 5 red and 6 blue cars. You could then talk about how there are 11 cars total, and 6 of the 11 cars are blue. You don’t even have to say 6/11. Just building the framework that allows for “parts and wholes” at this level is HUGE. If you could sneak in a little comparison here (there were less red cars than blue cars), that’s the cherry on top of the math sundae. (Mmmm…. Math sundae…)
This is also a good age to start getting intuition for the most basic of fractions – 1/2 1/3, 1/4. These would be great to bring into a coloring or painting activity. Painting “half the circle green, and half the circle brown” or coloring “four equal parts of the square” in different colors is all this takes. (Just a heads-up: I’ve been surprised how kids don’t necessarily have the same framework for “equal parts” as adults do. In a rectangle, they’re just as likely to color stripes or rows of equal size, not quadrants. That’s neat.)
Early elementary school brings more focus on the formal fraction. Building on the preschool activities, you would start using the name of the fractions: that 6/11 of the cars are blue. Another fun one that I do with my classes (although this requires the cooperation of my awesome local pizza parlor) is to order several pizzas unsliced. We work on the concept of equivalent fractions (1/2 of a pizza is the same as 2/4, etc.) and also adding: If Joey ate 1/4 of the pepperoni pizza and 1/4 of the Hawaiian pizza, how much pizza did he eat? Basic common denominators start creeping in here – what if Joey had eaten 1/4 of the pepperoni, and 1/2!!! of the Hawaiian? How much pizza did he eat now (the pig)?
Cooking with your kiddo is the old standby activity for fractions at this age – but it really is excellent for developing a visceral sense of relative fraction size. Half a cup is WAAAY bigger than a quarter cup, but only a little bigger than a third cup.
Mid-to-Late elementary school is where fractions will start showing up in school work. These skills can be reinforced by continuing the cooking activities from above, but adding in a twist. What if we could only use the 1/4 and 1/3 cup? How could we make this recipe? Bridget (@ItsBridgetsWorld) does an activity with her pre-teen where she gets out the wrong measures for ingredients, forcing the young cook to discern how much more or less is actually needed.
More theoretical / probing questions around drill homework can also help develop this fraction intuition: 1/8 + 1/4… Do we expect this to be more or less than a half? Why? What about 7/8 – is this more or less than 3/4? How do we know? Starting to bring in money and percentages at this point is an important crossover skill. If a $10 blouse is 30% off, how much would it cost? What fraction discount is this close or equal to?
What if you’re not so keen on fractions yourself? There are some great books and online resources to help:
- Basic Math and Pre-Algebra for Dummies – despite the unfortunate title, the explanations and examples are clear and the authors approach non-condescending.
- Practical Algebra – A Self-teaching Guide – super approachable and easy to understand.
- Fraction monkey is a $2.99 iphone / ipad app with an interface similar to angry birds – except you’re aiming the slingshot at the correct solution to a fraction arithmetic problem (includes 40 levels of increasing difficulty)
- www.helpwithfractions.com offers great step-by-step arithmetic tips, homework help and worksheets, with a clean easy-to-navigate interface.
I’ve also posted before on nerdmommathfun with some general math resources – books, websites and games… Hope some of that helps!
Nerd Math Mom is a recovering chemical engineer and high school math teacher. Good times. I try to avoid allowing my inner dork to overtake my real life as much as she would like… Thus this blog.
Currently I stay at home with my little toddler scientist, inventing ways that we both can get into way too much trouble.
I break out of the house a few times a week to teach math classes at the local community college, which is quickly becoming the dream job I never knew I wanted.
image from http://www.capitan.k12.nm.us/
p.s. Additional math resources from Kathleen Bednar, a math tutor in the San Jose area.