Fractions have an unenviable reputation of being difficult to teach. Although most students have extensive practice shading in parts of a rectangle and counting pieces of pie, many students still lack a conceptual knowledge of fractions. In a multiple choice question asking Year 9 students to estimate the nearest correct answer to 11/12 + 7/8, only a minority of students correctly answered 2. The most popular answers were 19 and 20. It seems that for many students fractions are a confusing nightmare, but why?

Mastering fractions requires a change in thinking about numbers. Moving from the whole number counting system to fractions (also known as rational numbers, i.e. numbers which are not whole numbers) takes students beyond their existing concept of whole numbers which are used to represent the number of things, to a more powerful number concept that can be used to describe not just whole things, but parts of things. Read more