Connecting symbolic fractions to their underlying proportions using iterative partitioning


Fractions are a challenging mathematics topic for many elementary and middle school students, and even for adults. However, a growing body of developmental research suggests that young children can reason about visually presented proportions, well before fraction instruction, providing insight into how fractions might be introduced to improve learning. We designed a card game to teach first and second grade children ( N = 195, including a racially and economically diverse sample from the United States) about fractions in one of three ways. In the Actively Divided condition we iteratively divided an area model into equal-sized units, in the Predivided condition we used an area model with the end-state of the Actively Divided condition, and in the Nondivided condition we used a continuous representation of the fraction magnitude that was not divided into unit-sized parts. Children in the actively divided condition demonstrated larger improvements matching symbolic fractions and visual fractions (i.e., pie charts) than children in the other two conditions. Posthoc analyses of children’s gameplay revealed that the actively divided condition may have provided a more optimal level of difficulty for young children than the predivided condition, which was particularly difficult, and the nondivided condition, which was trivially easy. These differences in gameplay performance provide insights into possible mechanisms for our results. We discuss open research questions highlighted by this work and implications of these findings for both the development of proportional reasoning and fraction learning.

Developmental Psychology
Michelle Hurst
Michelle Hurst
Assistant Professor

My research interests include mathematical development and variations in performance across contexts.