Are cute, whimsical, and artsy the adjectives that come to mind when planning to teach about improper fractions and mixed numbers? With inspiration from Ed Emberley’s drawing books and a helpful circle-punching tool, here’s how I disguise a rigorous fractions lesson with an open-ended art experience.
My students squeal with excitement whenever I announce that we’re going to do “M-Art” (math + art), especially those who are squeamish about computations. Their enthusiasm makes it worth the time investment to prep a LOT of colorful paper circles, but it’s even better if you can get a volunteer. Kids love using a circle punch, and a parent volunteer can make even quicker work of this job.
Colored paper — Brightly colored copy paper works best, since it’s thinner and easier to cut than construction paper.
2-inch circle punch — This tool is worth the $10. I find many other uses for it in the classroom. (This is the punch I use.) Two-inch circles work particularly well for small fingers, although smaller sizes will also do. In a pinch, you can cut out circles by hand, but that it painstaking compared to the punch.
Card stock or large index cards for the base of the kids’ creations.
Glue, scissors, and markers for the kids.
Before my students begin their artistic creations, we spend some time so they can fold and cut fractions from some “practice” circles. We discuss reliable ways to cut exact fourths and eighths. I challenge them to fold and cut the smallest fractional pieces possible. The kids thrill at cutting 32 tiny slivers. This helps to reinforce their thinking about the relationship between the denominator and the size of the fractions.
After “playing around” with the fractions circles, the students make a key that emphasizes that we’re using a single circle as our whole. This is a great time to review basic equivalent fractions concepts, as well as to introduce improper fractions and mixed numbers.
I share some of the illustrations from Picture Pie with my students before we begin, and we name the fractions we see as we study the pictures. I ask my class, “If one circle is a whole, what improper fraction can we use to represent this butterfly?” I model how I add up the fractional parts, and we practice together.
Some students are ready to dive into their fraction art-making right away. Others need some guidance to get their creative juices flowing. You can print several sample “recipes” for picture pie creations from Ed Emberley’s website. After one or two copycat designs, I encourage all of my students to begin creating their own pictures.
After students have designed their fractions animals, they label the fractional parts and add up the total value of their pictures. I ask the students to discuss their mathematical thinking with a fellow mathemartist, explaining their strategies to find the mixed number and improper fraction value of their pictures.
Mack keeps it simple with two representations of one-whole, while Imen explores 3¼.
We have a rich discussion about the students’ aesthetic decisions and their mathematical thinking after the students have finished their creations.
A jungle-themed bulletin board, complete with butcher paper vines and equivalent fractions leaves.
Lindsey Petlak explains how she uses technology to assess her students’ understanding of adding fractions in her post "Fraction Fun With Educreations: Show What You Know."
Students love using LEGO to explore fractions concepts. Read more about how Kriscia Cabral teaches fractions in her post "Legos and Fractions: A Math Task Adventure," and check out the fractions section of my blog post "Using LEGO to Build Math Concepts."
Scholastic’s free StudyJams! videos cover a range of fractions topics, and makes for a great early-finisher reinforcement activity.
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