Volume with Fractional Dimensions

Before I began our volume work this year, I blogged about my planning process here: https://mathmindsblog.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/unit-planning/. As anticipated, I had many students who quickly developed (or already had) strategies for finding volume and could articulate a conceptual understanding of what was happening in the prism. In my previous post, I was throwing around the idea of giving those students dimensions with fractional length sides, so the other day I thought I would try it out. I did this Illustrative Task as a formative assessment of student understanding. Many students were done in a couple of minutes, with responses for part b that looked like this:

IMG_7972As I walked around the room and saw they were finished quickly, I asked them to revisit part b and think about a tank with fractional dimensions. Because of the great work they had done here I thought they would have some interesting thoughts. These are a few of the responses I got:

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So, what did I learn from this work?  I saw they had some great understandings about taking a fraction of one factor to make a number that they knew they needed to multiply by a third whole number factor to get 240.  In the first two pictures, there is a great pattern happening that I want to explore further with the whole class. I also loved seeing that a student took the question “fractional length sides” to include decimals in his work. In my question, however, I had wanted them to consider more than one side in fractional lengths, however not being more explicit, they took it and ran with one side being fractional.  In the next lesson, I thought I would push them a bit with this.

In the following lesson, students were finding the volume of an unmarked prism in cubic centimeters. They had rulers, cm cubes, and cm grid paper available to them, and went to work. Every year this happens, the Investigations grid paper works with the box to be whole number dimensions, however the cm are a bit “off” when using a ruler or cm cubes. I knew this, however, I do love the discussions that evolve from students who used different tools. I also thought this is the perfect opportunity for my students who were beginning to think about fractional sides. What transpired in the whole class lesson is a blog post in and of itself, however this is what came about from the fractional sides work…

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Sooo much great stuff here! I had a group who was using the cubes, coming out with halves, but not wanting to round because it was “right in the middle” of the cube. I let them go and came back to see they were multiplying whole numbers, multiplying the fractions, and then adding them together to get their product. I asked them to think about another multiplication strategy to see if they got the same product, then came the array. Another student in the same group solved mentally to get the products. Unfortunately, the class had to leave me to go to their next class, also leaving me with so many things to think about. From here, I want to be sure students start to think about reasonableness of their solutions, compare their fraction multiplication strategy to whole number multiplication strategies, and think about how we multiply three numbers (Associative property). So much to do, I need full day math classes!

-Kristin

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