Why Are Fractions So Hard?

Why Are Fractions So Hard?

When children start to have difficulty in math, it often begins when they are introduced to fractions. Before fractions, they may have only known counting numbers and the relationship between them and the set of objects they represent.

Once fractions are introduced, students may feel overwhelmed and unable to visualize what a fraction represents. This may lead to math anxiety and cause students to retreat and not want to continue learning.

Getting the help they need with fractions is vital for helping them stay on track with their peers. But, to understand how to help your child, you must understand why they struggle with fractions.  

Rushed Through Basics

Students start learning about fractions and making sense of them visually in Grade 3, but don’t start using fractions with operations until Grade 5 or higher. They are often rushed through the basics of fractions because at this stage in education, it is believed that these concepts should be “easy to grasp.”

Students start to work with concrete shapes to better understand adding and subtracting whole numbers from the start of school until Grade 2 and even Grade 3. So, they have years to let the brain develop an understanding and connection of the visual with the abstract symbols. However, students are expected to develop a similar understanding and ability to work with fractions within a few years. 

Not Taught in High School

Fractions as a topic are not taught in high school, so they are expected to have an adequate understanding of them by the time they get into Grade 9. This makes fractions one of the most important aspects for students to understand as they move through the junior and intermediate grades (Grade 4 – 8). They are also often used as an indicator of future mathematical ability.

Understanding Fractions

The problem with understanding fractions often comes once they start to learn about like and unlike denominators. Students begin to learn fractions with standard fraction addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems with like denominators (e.g., 3/5+4/5), but problems may start once unlike denominators (e.g., 3/5+2/3) arise. Research shows that 6th and 8th graders only tend to answer about 50% of items correctly when given unlike denominator questions.

This missing knowledge is especially unfortunate because fractions are foundational to many more advanced areas of mathematics and science. Fifth graders’ fraction knowledge predicts high school students’ algebra learning and overall math achievement, even after controlling for whole number knowledge, the students’ IQ, and their families’ education and income.

Often, the problem with fractions starts because students are not given the time to develop a sound understanding of what a fraction is. If they don’t fully understand what ¾ represents, they can’t be expected to work with it and learn how it relates to other numerical values.  

 Students need to visually see what a fraction represents to fully understand fractions. By looking at a representation of what ¾ looks like, they will begin to realize that ¾ is itself a symbol to represent the fraction. Developing brains need to see what it means in a concrete state before thinking of it using the ¾ symbol.

Once students get a solid understanding of what a fraction is, then they can start to manipulate it in their heads. Students must be able to use mental strategies that allow them to make sense of how they fit together and how to work with them in easy contexts first (eg., ¼ + 2/4 is ¾ OR 3  ¼ parts put together) to cement understanding before they can move to abstract ideas.

Develop a Thorough Understanding

 Help your child develop a concrete understanding of fractions with Dropkick Math. Our courses incorporate fractions to ensure that students understand how to compare, add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions. Through visuals, your child will fully understand what fractions are and how they relate to each other.

Don’t let your child fall behind with their understanding of fractions. Our courses are designed to help you and your child better understand mathematics and pave the way for their achievements in high school. Get started today with our Free Early Indicators Quiz.