Why do Americans have such trouble with fractions—and what can be done?

Fractions indeed are challenging for kids from ages 7-12. Probably the mental picture of a pie/pizza helps. Also, making fractions to the same denominator is a technique that once mastered will make addition/subtraction of fractions much easier.

Source: Scientific American

Many children never master fractions. When asked whether 12/13 + 7/8 was closest to 1, 2, 19, or 21, only 24% of a nationally representative sample of more than 20,000 US 8th graders answered correctly. This test was given almost 40 years ago, which gave Hugo Lortie-Forgues and me hope that the work of innumerable teachers, mathematics coaches, researchers, and government commissions had made a positive difference. Our hopes were dashed by the data, though; we found that in all of those years, accuracy on the same problem improved only from 24% to 27% correct.

Such difficulties are not limited to fraction estimation problems nor do they end in 8th grade. On standard fraction addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems with equal denominators (e.g., 3/5+4/5) and unequal denominators (e.g., 3/5+2/3), 6th and 8th graders tend to answer correctly only about 50% of items. Studies of community college students have revealed similarly poor fraction arithmetic performance. Children in the US do much worse on such problems than their peers in European countries, such as Belgium and Germany, and in Asian countries such as China and Korea.

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