I’m on my second day attending Dr. Robert Berry’s elementary math methods course for the week. I decided that it would be a good idea to see how such an expert is teaching future elementary teachers how to teach fractions, since I am struggling with a paper on issues related to fraction instruction in elementary school classrooms. Monday he didn’t start fractions, but instead finished up multiplication. Today he is focusing on partitioning using Cuisenaire Rods. Similar to my own experience in math methods courses during my pre-service education at William & Mary, it is a completely hands-on lesson, with students learning how to teach using manipulatives. This approach is exactly what I expected to see.
The problem is that these teachers are learning how to do this with manipulatives in their courses, but then getting into the classroom and relying on lecture and drill/practice. I am guilty of it myself, having manipulatives in my classroom and under-utilizing them. A lot of these preservice teachers have been struggling with the multiplication and the fractions, but the manipulatives help them to work through the problems and develop a better sense of proportional reasoning. Teachers need to understand fractions to teach fractions to students. Then the students need to use the manipulatives to understand, just as their teachers did.