Fractions in Common Core
If you teach in a state that uses the Common Core Standards, then you know that third grade is a big year! Fractions move out of the Geometry standards and into their very own strand of Number and Operations. Second grade students work hard to model halves, thirds, and fourths using rectangles and circles. In third grade the real fun begins! Third graders develop an understanding of the unit fraction, put fractions on the number line, and compare fractions. This is a huge jump; teachers must use “visual fraction models” as repeated in the standards. Fraction bars are awesome visual models.
If we truly want our students to gain fraction fluency and see fractions as numbers themselves, then we must provide many different tools and representations to make that happen.
My favorite fraction model by far is the fraction bar. I feel that students can pretty easily break a rectangle into however many pieces are needed based on the denominator, and I see such a strong connection to length. I always had my students make their own colored set of bars to keep in their math notebooks. There is a lot of benefit to having them make their own. Students begin to see that Hey! Folding the strip in half doesn’t help me make fifths, but it does help me when it’s time to make tenths!
Sometimes it takes a few tries to get fraction bars drawn equally, and that problem solving process is great for students. Plan to have lots of extra colored strips cut. I (of course) would get super nervous about all the time that we were taking to make these personalized sets. Every year I found that the exercise was worth it because of the learning process.
We pulled our homemade bars out anytime there was a debate about the solution to a fraction problem. You can find pre-drawn fraction bars online to print and cut. These are great to keep in math centers or just available for students to retrieve when needed.
I’ve written a lesson plan that you can use to lead students through this process. Check it out below!