Last school year, I wrote a series entitled “Understanding Fractions.” The series was very well received and I got lots of positive feedback. This year, I want to continue this series with a special sub-series about understanding fraction operations. To kick off this special series, I want to begin with fraction addition.

Admittedly, the addition, and consequently subtraction, of fractions is the most challenging of the fraction operations. However, if we are to believe that “computation with rational numbers is an extension of computation with whole numbers,” as stated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NCTM, (2010), there’s clearly a disconnect somewhere. Our students have little trouble combining quantities to add whole numbers, so why do they struggle with fraction addition?

As teachers, we know that our students struggle with fraction addition because, like they do with whole numbers, they want to add all of the quantities, numerators and denominators. However, this strategy does not work with fraction addition. Both the Common Core State Standards for Math and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills include standards that specify using models to add and subtract fractions. Modeling fractions is a meaningful and worthwhile experience for students, especially for your visual and tactile students, as well as, those who are just learning the concept.

Take a look at fraction modeling with manipulatives in action in the Teaching Channel video below.

**Note:** The fraction addition portion ends about 6 minutes into the video. Feel free to stop there.

Can’t see the video, click here.

After watching the video, consider the following:

- How does the teacher’s use of the “build it,” “draw it,” “write it” method enhance her students’ understanding?
- How does the use of fraction strips contribute to the students’ understanding of the skill?
- What lesson experience would you suggest to follow this exploration?
- What structures has the teacher established to ensure the effective use of the manipulatives?

Using fraction manipulatives to support students’ understanding of fraction operations is essential to help students understand the process of adding fractions and connect the understanding to the addition of whole numbers. There are many fraction tools available, such as fraction strips, fraction bars, fraction builders, pattern blocks, etc. For the best learning experience, use a variety of tools to help solidify the concept for students.

**Reference:** B.C., F. W., M. R., & R. S. (2010). Developing essential understanding of rational numbers, grades 3-5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

**Sound Off!**How do you use models and manipulatives to teach fraction skills?

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