The term ‘fraction’ in its literal sense means a part of the whole. That is how we’ve always learnt fractions in school and also as teachers have transferred the concept to children. At the centre for children where I work, we thought of several ways of making it easier for children to understand the idea of fractions. We procured and developed teaching-learning aids where we could demonstrate what was meant by ¼, ½, ¾, etc. There was an interesting variety of aids put together. However I was not very sure of the approach. While there was merit in what I was doing in class, there were some areas where I felt I was digressing from the principle of learning through practical experience and was going into an area of algorithmic expectations. Therefore, when we were approached by a team from Eklavya and the Homi Bhabha Science Centre to try out the model of conveying fractions with our group of children through the ‘sharing’ model, I was keen to do this in my class.
Difficulties with using only the conventional measure model in class
The measure model, by its definition, implies that a number is supposed to reflect a quantity; it is a measure of a specific quantity. It is not so challenging to teach unit fractions, as one-third, one-half, one-fourth because it can be introduced to children as a number which is less than a whole number and therefore answers the need to find a way of writing something that is less than one.
The author works for Muskaan, an NGO working with slum communities in Bhopal. A film has been made on the classroom processes described in this article. A copy could be made available on sending a request to email@example.com.