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Key Issues In Teaching Fraction, Decimal and Percentages

Key issues in teaching of fractions, decimals and percentage :


related Teacher related Environmentally related (Socialeconomic demands)

Student related

students should build their understanding of fractions as parts of a whole and as division. They will need to see and explore a variety of models of fractions, focusing primarily on familiar fractions such as halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, eights, and tenths. By using an area model in which part of a region is shaded, students can see how fractions are related to a unit whole, compare fractional parts of a whole, and find equivalent fractions. They should develop strategies for ordering and comparing fractions, often using benchmarks such as and 1.

Student related

Not seeing decimals as representing part of a unit quantity

Some children see the decimal point as separating two whole numbers. At one extreme, they might see two quite separate numbers in one decimal number. More commonly, children who have not completely made the decimal-fraction link will think of two different types of whole numbers making up a decimal such as 4.63, (perhaps as 4 whole numbers and 63 of another unit)

These children will tend to select longer decimal numbers as larger. For example, they would pick 4.63 as larger than 4.8. *Many of them will be categorised as whole number thinkers*

Some students simply consider how many parts there are in the decimal and do not consider the size of the parts. They conclude that 0.621 with 621 parts must be larger than 0.7, which has only 7 parts. They do not think about what these parts, or extra bits or remainders etc might be

Cognitive difficulties common to understanding both decimals and fractions

(i) Coordinating

number of parts and size of parts of a fraction

Because decimals and fractions are both used to describe parts of a unit quantity, some of the difficulties that students show in understanding fractions are evident in understanding decimals.

To understand the size of a fraction, the numerator and the denominator must be considered simultaneously. The denominator indicates the size of the parts into which the referent whole has been divided and the numerator indicates how many parts there are. Not being able to coordinate these two factors is a major developmental difficulty in understanding both fractions and decimals.


Partitioning, unitising and reunitising

Partitioning, unitising and reunitising are three cognitive processes that are required for dealing with common fractions and they also affect students' understanding of decimals. There is general agreement (Behr et al, 1992) that many students' difficulties relate to changes in the nature of the unit that they have to deal with. For example, to find three quarters of 24 counters, the counters are first thought of as individual units, then the 24 counters need to be perceived as a whole so that one quarter can be taken.

Then three of these new composite units need to be taken to make three quarters. Decimals present problems especially with re-unitising between tenths and hundredths etc. For example to see 2 strips of a 100 square as representing 20 hundredths of one unit OR 2 tenths of one unit OR 0.2 or 0.20 of one unit requires several cognitive steps.

The initial counting units are the small squares Two different composite units are created from these - a tenth is a new composite unit made from a strip of ten small squares and the whole square is a new composite unit, made of the 100 small squares. Seeing the square as being composed of 10 strips (each a tenth) requires the idea of a unitof-units. Finally to talk about 0.2 of the square means that the square itself is a measure unit. (Baturo and Cooper, 1997)

Many young children and some throughout secondary school do not make the decimal-fraction link correctly. Others exhibit the same cognitive difficulties that are encountered with fractions in their thinking about decimals. Fundamental understanding of fractions, such as dealing with equivalent fractions, is critical to decimals as well.

Understanding The Relationship Among Fractions, Decimals, Percents:

All represent a part of a whole A fraction is based on the number into which the whole is divided (the denominator). The numerator (the top) is the PART, the denominator (the bottom) is the WHOLE. A decimal is based on the number in terms of tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc. A percent is based on the number in terms of 100.


To help students understand decimals, a teacher must first teach them the concept of the place values. The concept of place value is the key to our whole number system. The number zero was invented as a symbol to represent nothing, and its role in our number system is to hold place for a value. For example, the number '1000' has three zero place holders. It has no hundreds, no tens, and no ones, so 1000 needs three zeros to keep the place. Moving the decimal increases or decreases the value by a power of 10, meaning each place to the left of the decimal is 10 times the value of the one directly to its right. The order is ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, and so forth. Our decimal system gives us the flexibility to write numbers as large or small as we like. The key to the decimal system is the decimal point. Anything on the left of the decimal point represents a whole number, anything on the right of the decimal represents less than one (similar to a fraction). Going from left to right, the value of each place on the right of the decimal point is 1/10 the value of the place on the left.

(A) To ensure that students understand decimal numbers, we should teach them the meaning of place value by using the language of tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc. (B) The usual way of comparing, for example, 0.45 and 0.6 through the routine of add a zero so numbers are the same size does not require a knowledge of the size of decimal numbers nor develop an understanding of number size and should therefore be avoided. (C) The comparison of 0.45 < 0.6 can be understood through the use of verbal descriptions such as: sixtenths is more than 45 hundredths because 45 hundredths has only 4 tenths and whats left is less than another tenth.

Most of the blame on students non-learning of decimals can be placed squarely on the following two facts: (i) decimals are mostly taught as a topic independent of the subject of fractions, and (ii) no clear and precise definition of a decimal is ever given.
For example, the preceding commentary implies that to understand decimals, it sufffices to concentrate on tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc,. of the unit 1, but nowhere does it say what a decimal really is. In the learners mind, a decimal becomes something elusive and ineffable: it is something one can talk about indirectly, but not something one can say outright what it is.

If teacher cannot say explictly what a decimal is, then it is not a concept teacher can expect students to understand.

General observation that when mathematical difficulties are not removed from lessons, discussions of pedagogical improvements are meaningless. Great pedagogy lavished on incorrect mathematics makes bad education. Students do not learn mathematics when they are taught incorrect mathematics. Teachers, content knowledge dictates pedagogy in mathematics education.

The key issues in teaching fractions is always related to pupils inability to master the concepts of fraction.
seeing fraction comprising of two numbers Cannot understand the concept of equality in fraction Inability to state relationship between numerator and denominator Inability to state the conceptual meaning of denominator and numerator Students non-learning of decimals may be caused by There are no clear and precise definition of a decimal number given. Place value and rounding off the decimal numbers are not emphasized. Decimals are mostly taught as a topic independent of the subject of fractions.