Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fractions are Numbers too!

Fractions are Numbers Too!

I grew up in the time of the "uptown" Numerator and "downtown" Denominator- math tricks that get students thinking about rote memorization instead of any conceptual understanding. None of my teachers knew of the common core standards, and my college days were over before it was first implemented. The way that fractions were taught left me, like so many other 30 somethings, with an implicit idea of fractions as unimportant. Fractions are different. Fractions are confusing so just cross multiply or invert. Fractions must not be that important because we only talk about them at the end of the year.

The Common Core, which has fractions as a separate domain of mathematics starting in 3rd grade, actually creates standards to help foster the conceptual understanding that seems to be missing in so many adults and children alike. Even still, when I became a teacher I had a decision to make. Either perpetuate the attitudes like those above which were passed on to me and continue to believe them myself, or break away and re-teach myself in order to create a new pathway of learning fractions for my students.
Learning Fractions for the 2nd Time

I have to admit that quieting the voice holding onto the myth of fractions being too difficult and unimportant to worry about was challenging at times. I started embarking on this fraction journey on my own, quite unsure of where to start without actually going back to school. Twitter, my savior in so many ways, helped start the conversation about student (and my own) misconceptions. Twitter just this past weekend confirmed that my misconceptions and sometime thinking about avoidance of the "hard" math is not in isolation:

Thankfully, each year of teaching 3rd grade I have gotten a little wiser on how to seek out helpful resources. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics magazine, Teaching Children Mathematics, has been my go-to for well-written action research on fractions and has given me great ideas for my unit planning. A major idea from these articles is that students must have tools and manipulatives so that they can explore with fractions. Pinterest has some great ideas for fulfilling this need, centered around the more artsy side, and some fraction resources I even created myself.

The first major takeaway on this journey is that fractions are not this completely separate thing that math teachers just have to deal with once and a while. Fractions are everywhere and EVERYONE use them all the time- when cooking, making purchases, sharing-and teachers need to emphasize the fact that often gets overlooked-fractions are numbers too! I even read about the importance of understanding fractions when ordering food-a certain fast food chain received complaints because the price of a 1/3 pound hamburger was more expensive than a 1/4 pound hamburger...

Repeating over and over again that fractions are numbers too places fractions in a completely different view for me. Now I'm sure that you too already knew that fractions are numbers, but have you explicitly stated this lately to your students? In previous years I wasn't. I just expected students to realize this on their own. Shame on me. But now I know better.

Have you used fractions in your informal conversations with students? How about showing where fractions are on the number line even when discussing whole numbers? Not to talk about fractions at that moment, but just for students to remember that they exist?

My second big takeaway is that there is always something new to learn about teaching and thinking about fractions. Last year, after three years of my reading articles and practicing problems for myself, I thought I had enough new knowledge to correctly focus on the difference between a numerator and denominator, but I was still doing it all wrong.

While I now had plenty of concrete and abstract visuals for students to use in their explorations and build what I thought was conceptual understanding, I was speaking with the "3 out of 4" language and not even realizing that I was hurting my students.

While vocabulary is necessary and an important practice for precision, leading an introduction to fractions with this interpretation can perpetuate the misconception that the numerator and denominator should be treated as separate numbers. The truth is that they must be viewed as a "unit"; they together represent one number on a number line.

It never even occurred to me until reading Van de Walle et al.'s text, Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics, that students would look at each digit as a whole in this way because I didn't see them that way.

After reading the fraction specific chapters of this text, it is now difficult (thankfully) for me to return to my old way of thinking and teaching. Of course students would use their schema of whole numbers and associate the numerator and denominator with what is already familiar to them.

Because of this I am an even bigger believer in mathematical standard of practice #6 - attend to precision. When thinking about a length model for working with fractions, I now make sure to replace my words for "3 out of 4" with the following:

"one whole has been partitioned into 4 pieces. This means that each piece has a length of 1/4 of the whole. We happen to have 3 of these 1/4's ." This way students are thinking of fractions as parts of the whole while at the same time developing their understanding of the iteration of unit fractions. It's a win-win for conceptual understanding and approaching the common core standards!

P.S. If you haven't picked up a copy of Van de Walle's text, please consider doing so soon. This is a mind altering view on how to teach and learn mathematics.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

When I first saw this pic on Twitter I had to ask if it was a joke. I for one like the common core standards as a whole and feel that they are improving the crucial thinking skills of Teachers and Students alike. I know that there is some confusion out there about why specific strategies are used and that there has been some public bashing of these strategies, but I seriously wasn't expecting a how-to book like this to pop up on Amazon. What are your thoughts about this topic? Great idea for parents and educators or passive aggressive plot against the Common core? #ccss #mathstandards #ElemMathchat #mathworkshop

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

How are you helping parents and children talking about math? #tpt #momtomom #kidsmathtalk #mathworkshop #mathworkshopworks #mathtalk #iteachtoo

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5 Easy Ways for parents to start #kidsmathtalk

1.  Count and sort at home!

Sorting laundry is an excellent activity for little ones to get them into the habit of seeing similarities and differences. Another option could be sorting silverware in a drawer, buttons or coins. Older children could be encouraged to sort and then count by 2s, 3s, etc. or to estimate to figure out the total number of objects. They will be having fun and practicing crucial early math concepts at the same time.

2. Use math talk with food

Have your children help you in the kitchen. Baking is a natural for talking math as it leads to conversations about capacity (use the measuring cups!) and fractions. Create another layer with the addition of fraction by 'hiding' the 1 cup option and asking your child how to create 1 cup with just the 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup options. In the end, you will have spent quality time with your child, reinforced the importance of math in everyday life, and baked a yummy treat to share. It's a win-win!

3. Play games with your children

Playing a game that involves counting, whether it's money, playing cards, or spaces on a board, can help make thinking and talking math more natural for children. Even setting aside just 10 minutes a week for this play can greatly enhance a child's motivation, retention, and curiosity of math concepts. It will become 10 minutes that you both look forward to each week.

4. Create a weekly pattern

Grab a piece of paper and Sharpie and then create a pattern from number, shapes, letters, (or a combination). It will then be up to your children to figure out what kind of pattern you have created (growing, or repeating usually) so that they can correctly continue the pattern. This can be a great conversation starter during breakfast time too. Be sure to reveal the secrets of your pattern at the end of the week!

5. Guess my Number

This one is excellent for those longer car rides or when you get stuck in traffic on the way to sports practice. Think of a number in the hundreds and then give your children 20 guesses to try to figure out that number. They can only ask you yes or no questions. After playing this a few times, it should encourage them to ask more thoughtful questions, such as, "Is your number even?", "Does your number round to 700?", and "Is your number greater than 650?"

Simon Sinek's book, Start with Why, is changing my life. If you haven't read this yet, do yourself a favor and download on audible or pick up a hard copy soon. It is a quick and easy read with principles and information that will give you a total mindshift and lead to inspirational thinking.

I believe in this blog site, in my Twitter stream, and in my career in teaching. It was not until after reading this with Sinek's idea of the Golden Circle that I started thinking about why I am so devoted to these educational outlets. Below are my 'whys' written down so that I am clear for others and clearer for myself. Please, if something is fuzzy in this let me know.
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1. I believe that students deserve teachers who believe in student-centered mathematics.

2. I believe that teachers need opportunities and resources to become stronger mathematicians.

3. I believe that elementary teachers need ongoing and relevant professional development centered around student-centered mathematics.

4. I believe that educators need to connect with one another and share ideas about mathematics as well as push themselves in their current beliefs and knowledge about mathematics.
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Welcome to Kid's Math Talk, LLC!

My name is Desiree and I am super passionate about math education and best practices for students and their teachers. Thanks for stopping by my blog!