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Building with Fractions: Kitchen Dilemma

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I’m a 6th and 7th grade math teacher and fractions are the most challenging concepts to teach students.  Math in general can be a very abstract subject and often students loose interest because they aren’t able to apply fractions within a real world context. 

This project is intended for middle school students that are learning how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions.

I have tried many different projects for fractions.  One year, I had my students design community gardens that were in different fractional parts.  Another year, I had my students create a cooking show video.  With these two projects students understood fractional parts, but didn’t understand how adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions came into play.

My partner and I live in a really old apartment that has a kitchen with no counter space.  One day we decided to build a table for our kitchen.  While building the table, we had to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions.  I thought, “what a great math project this would be.” 

That day I began to put together a series of lessons that incorporated my “kitchen dilemma.”  I told my students the story about my kitchen and showed them pictures.  I asked them how I could solve this problem of not having any counter space.  My students started to brainstorm.  They shared many ideas until one student yelled out “what about building your own counters.”  That was my opportunity to hook the students into this project.  I quickly responded, “what a great idea.  Let’s do just that.”  I asked them what they thought might be necessary to know about building a table.  We looked at blueprints and watched videos.  The students came up with many topics, including fractions.  That was my opportunity to engage them in learning fractions.  I then proceeded to teach them how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions.

SEE ATTACHED FILE FOR LEARNING OBJECTIVES 
 
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vincent75202 years ago

Congratulations to your students : I'm 60 and more and I still find it hard to enter these kind of sums in my mind (which proves one can live without them, or maybe not !…).

A friend of mine who is now a top maths scientist in one of those bid institutions here not unlike the MIT told me she had a very hard time with fractions at school. And she said something which I find quite profound : "sharing is difficult for a child".
I'm 60 too; best thing I did was get an "engineers" tape measure two decades ago and switched to metric for stuff like this. Fractions aren't as irrational as counting in English but it's close (what the heck is a seven-teen anyway? That should be ten-seven).

It would be interesting to give your kids a hands-on project making cabinets using fractions and another group that only gets to use metric measurements and compare right angles. :-) But there's no funding for shop classes anymore I guess; too bad, sounds like you'd be perfect for the study.
As a math teacher you should find yourself lucky to teach in United Sates where students approach science in a practical manner (this can be seen profusely on Instructables…) : one could even say that a student who's not smeared with sawdust, clay, solder or anything else at the end of a session didn't pay attention to class…
Alas, this is not so in France where science (and all other study fields, except sports - art and music is barely approached) is taught in the most theoretical and unpractical manner one can imagine.
This is ok for the few very abstract minds who will perform very well in higher studies (and that may be the reason why the French still have a very high level of scientists in maths, physics and many other scientific fields - relative to the small country we became). Still, most if not all others students are left on the side of the road which is bad : I guess this may also explain why the French are so elitist.
Anyway I'm quite happy to live in a metric system country : things for people like me who alway had a problem with numbers are much easier. Although were I born in an imperial system I guess that I would have managed. Still when someone tells me to shave off "1/2 mille" (half a millimeter) I know that when I get to one millimeter I screwed up !… Whereas I wouldn't be able to tell the difference when going from a fraction of an inch to an other !!!…
So, yes I would be perfect for the study … as a student !!!…
As for my only kid, she's 21 (late father) and she decided a long time ago that number wouldn't be her game as she studies art history : cats don't make dogs, as we say here.
Nice talking to you.
Best wishes to you and your class, and keep up with the good teaching work you're performing.
vespakat (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Thank you soo much!!
noahw2 years ago
Nice work on your kitchen prep table and what excellent supporting educational documentation! While the world wide web is still yet to feel the full and lasting impact of your newly published, highly detailed and carefully constructed worksheets, it's obvious that your desire to help your students understand fractions has been benefitting young folks locally, and so with that, we're proud to have your project on Instructables. Thank you for your submission, and as someone who was never taught fractions in such an engaging way, thank you on behalf of your students as well.
vespakat (author)  noahw2 years ago
You're welcome!
Thank you soooo much! I feel tremendously touched by your words and encouraged to continue with what I'm doing.  The school administration can be challenging.
waxygirl212 years ago
This is fantastic that you are teaching fractions in a new and unique way. It is amazing you have worked so hard to make math engaging for students. There should be more teachers out there like you.
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