Two days a week we have a Math RTI period built into our school schedule. It is 50 minutes in which students receive additional math support through Marilyn Burns’ Do The Math Program, as well as the use of Number Talks. The groups are smaller than the regular core classes, allowing for more individual time with each student. In 5th grade, we focus heavily on the fraction module and building reasoning within the structure of our number system. When we implemented this structure about four years ago, the majority of the students in the more intensive groups had an extreme aversion to fractions and really just a lack of confidence in their ability to do math. They were just looking for a “way to solve” the problem to get it over with, rather than reasoning and working through a problem.
The fraction module, through the use of fraction strips, encourages the students to think about the size of fractional pieces, creates a visual for fraction equivalence and looks at the relationships between fractions. Students use these understandings to compare, add and subtract fractions and most importantly build their confidence in their ability to do math. The Number Talks I do with fractions really focus on getting the students to THINK about the fractions before just operating left to right and looking for a common denominator each time. This week I was doing a number talk on adding fractions with my group and put up this problem: 3/4 + 5/10 + 1/8 + 2/16. My thought in choosing the problem was there was some great decomposition and equivalence that could happen.
We usually do these problems mentally, so I don’t typically give them white boards but since I really wanted to see their thinking, I did this time (and I am so glad). Seven students came up with six different answers. It was awesome. I had them lay their boards down and look at them all before they started to explain their strategy. It was all of the great decomposition, equivalence, and addition I was hoping it would be. I especially love 3/4 + 5/10 = 1 1/4 and the bottom left where the student rewrote 5/10 as 4/8 + 1/8 to add to the 6/8.
I started to hear a lot of “Oh”‘s and “They are the same”‘s but the student who got 24/16 thought she was wrong because hers “looked different.” They all agreed the others were equivalent but I asked them to explain to their strategy and discuss the 24/16.
It was such a great discussion and as I was listening to them, I wondered how in the world any teacher could ever want to teach a group of students how to solve problems in only one way when there is such rich conversation in their individual thinking. They loved matching their answer to the others and proving how it was the same. Not to mention the confidence, independence and reassurance in their own math ability when they arrived at the correct answer.