My Trip to Number Town

The problem many people have with school arithmetic [fraction] is that they never get to the meaning stage; it remains forever an abstract game of formal symbols.
Keith Devlin, The Math Instinct

This is particularly true when students are confronted with fractions. Not only are they overwhelmed by the myriad of rules one has to master, but they have to keep a stiff upper lip when facing problems like 1/2 + 2/3. Isn’t the answer 3/5? You would be surprised by how many kids think so. 

The way I see it is that we need to come up with ways that helps children not only succeed with fractions but see their trip through school as an adventure which includes challenges that students will engage in because they are motivated. 

Breaking the Fraction Barrier

“Instead of making kids learn math, let’s make math kids will learn.”
-Seymour Papert

According to Hung-Hsi Wu (University of California, Berkeley) the reason why this subject is the bane of elementary school students has been extensively investigated but to our knowledge no dramatic progress has yet surfaced as to the efficacy of student learning fractions. 

Thus we cannot fail to see that a major reason for student’s failure to learn fractions is the mystical and mathematically incoherent manner the subject has been presented to them.

So what I hope to provide is an antidote for your student’s fraction malaise pandemic that is raging in this country. I call it an adventure in Number Town. I hope you enjoy it.

Curriculum as Story

Budget a bit more here rather than there, that choice speaks to your priorities about the way you define learning. And all of those decisions add up to a story. In fact, everything that you do in school contributes to a story that you are telling around learning and how you believe that happens.  -Will Richardson

The story form is a cultural universal; everyone everywhere enjoys stories. The story, then, is not just some casual entertainment; it reflects a basic and powerful form in which we make sense of the world and experience. Indeed some people claim that the story form reflects a fundamental structure of our minds. Whatever the case, it is clear that children are readily and powerfully engaged by stories. -Teaching as Story Telling: An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School, Kieran Egan

Number Town is an imaginary story about a town nestled in the woods beyond the mountains inhabited by whole or natural numbers. 736 was the sheriff, 9 was the village baker and 1 was the mayor. At that time there were rumors that other strange creatures lived in the woods beyond the mountains. But no one could imagine that that there could be numbers that weren’t natural. So they just ignored it and went about their business. The sheriff lives a quiet life because there are no robberies. You see in Number Town if any inhabitant would steal something he would steal the same number of items as his name so they would be immediately arrested. Thus there were no robberies … until one day there was a robbery. That’s where I, 2/3rds, come in. Let’s watch this movie to see what happens next.

The Weird Number

So begins my story that I hope will engage young children on their journey through number land. Stay tuned as the adventure unfolds.

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