Decoding decimals

Sinny Mole

Last year I attended an external workshop in Rajkot organized for primary math teachers. After the introductory session, the facilitator asked the participants for a topic they considered a challenge to teach. Most teachers named one topic – ‘decimals’.

decimal-kit The concept of ‘decimals’ is difficult for the children to understand. Children often get confused when asked to compare decimal numbers. When comparing and ordering decimals, children apply the whole number place value concept to the decimal numbers as well. For example, to them 0.32 seems greater than 0.4.

All of us quickly recognize that 0.5 and ½ are simply different representations of the same quantity. Some teachers simply point out that the two representations are “the same thing”. But, it is difficult for primary grade children to visualize the connection between the two different systems – fractional representation and decimal representation. The way we communicate concepts to the children matters a lot. It is very important to explain that both decimal numbers and fractions represent the same concepts. A deep understanding of decimal number scan develops only when children have the opportunities to explore decimal concepts concretely and pictorially and then relate them to fractions. To help in this understanding, teachers should develop classroom activities for modelling base 10 fractions and expanding the base 10 number system. Before teaching place value, children should be given enough practice for conversion from decimal representation to fractions and vice versa. Remember, decimal numbers are simply another way of writing fractions and hence teachers must demonstrate the connection between the two.

Generally, primary grade children prefer active learning experiences that allow them to explore and construct mathematical ideas. The use of concrete materials provides a lot of opportunities for children to see that mathematics is practical. A well-planned and organized classroom session paves the way for an enjoyable learning experience that stimulates curiosity and interest of all children.

The author has been math teacher and Assistant Coordinator, Primary-2 at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Vidyamandir, Reliance Greens, Jamnagar. She can be reached at

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