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Teaching Fractions: Pre-school childrens Understanding of Fractions

BABA Imiko Tohoku University, Aoba 09 Aoba-ku Sendai 980-8579 Japan IWASAKI Syoichi Tohoku University, Aoba 09 Aoba-ku Sendai 980-8579 Japan
Abstract: The decline in academic ability has been an issue in Japan recently. In particular, even some university students cannot understand fractions. Because the contents of instruction on fractions and the instruction hours have decreased in elementary school, these university students must have graduated from elementary school without fully understanding fractions. We examined changes in pupils learning of fractions at elementary school using the Ministry of Educations instruction manuals from 1947 to the present. Moreover, we examined how elementary schools treated fractions using textbooks and instruction manuals published by Gakko Tosho Inc. from 1951 to the present. Our examinations revealed that the instruction hours decreased by and large. In Japan, not only the instruction hours devoted to fractions decreased but the fractions are also taught at a later grade. We examined the understanding of fractions of five are pre-school children. One of five-year-old children understood equal division and two understood measurement division that are supposed to be taught in the fourth grade. Although currently it is fourth graders that begin to learn fractions, it is better to teach fractions at earlier stage. Keywords: fraction, instruction hours, pre-school children, equal division, measurement division, one-to-one correspondence

1. Introduction
The decline in academic ability has been an issue in Japan recently. In particular, it has been reported that even some university students cannot understand fractions. In fact, when she taught computer music at a Seminar on Multimedia at a college, Baba found some university students who could not understand fractions (Baba 2002). When adults and sixth graders were tested in an experiment of fraction production to examine how they perceived fractions we found out that the sixth graders judged fractions much more accurately than the adults (Baba & Iwasaki 2003). According to textbooks from Gakko Tosho Inc., fourth graders (nine years old) begin to learn fractions quantum fractions, addition and subtraction of fractions with the same denominators, proper fractions, improper fractions, and mixed numbers. Fifth graders learn small or large of unit fractions, small or large of fractions, and fractions and decimal numbers. Sixth graders learn reduction, cancellation, addition and subtraction of fractions with different denominators, and multiplication and division of fractions. Fractions are taught only in elementary school and no instruction takes place in or after junior high school. Consequently, if s/he fails to understand fractions in elementary school, one cannot understand them as an adult. Even if s/he understood fractions as an elementary school student, without later use, it is possible that one will forget them. One of the difficulties of fractions is related to features of their composition. Fractions represent the division of something and its proportion. It is difficult to apply a decimal (finger counting) system to fractions. The description of fractions is complicated, consisting of proper fractions, improper fractions, and mixed numbers. Because of these features, the instruction of fractions is spread across grades. Four thousand years ago in Egypt, people began to use fractions by writing them on papyrus, but in Japan, with the effect of Chinese unit system, we have a decimal culture and have difficulty in understanding fractions. Fractions are not just non-integral numbers. They also have important significance in the development of whole numbers, decimal numbers, and fractions into the abstractness of numbers. Cancellation and reduction are the basis for multiples, common multiples, least common multiples, measures, common measures, and greatest common measures. Four fundamental rules of arithmetic are the basis for linear algebra. Because the contents of instruction and instruction hours have decreased in elementary school, university students have graduated from elementary school without fully understanding fractions.

In Japan, instruction is carried out in accordance with the Ministry of Educations instruction manual. Under the slogan of education without cramming, the instruction hours of arithmetic in the elementary school were decreased. Section Two explains the transformation of the Ministry of Educations instruction manual concerning fractions from 1947. Focusing on one textbook publisher, Section Three examines changes in the instruction hours of fractions from 1980 to the present. Section Four explicates infants understanding of fractions. Based on the findings in Sections Two, Three, and Four, Section Five considers whether it is possible to teach fractions at a lower grade.

2. Transformation of the Ministry of Educations Instruction Manual Concerning Fractions


In Japanese public schools, instruction is carried out in accordance with the instruction manual. The
Ministry Educations draft policy in 1947 indicates that the instruction of fractions should be carried out in nine years from first through ninth grades. However, because the level was too high and it was difficult to teach in accordance with new education policy, the policy was changed in 1948. Instruction of fractions was to be carried out in five years from fourth through eighth grades. Then, the draft policy of 1951 returned to the original idea of 1947 to instruct fractions in the first grade. With this major change, the draft policy became an instruction manual in 1958. Because, from 1958, four fundamental rules of arithmetic should be completed in elementary school, instruction hours of arithmetic increased. In 1958 and 1968, the Ministry of Education gave notice that fractions were to be instructed in five years from the second through the sixth grades. In 1978 and 1989, the length of instruction was changed to four years, from the third through the sixth grades. In 1998, the Ministry gave notice that fractions were to be instructed in three years from the fourth through the sixth grades, which was to be implemented in 2002. The number of instruction years has been decreasing. Memorization requires repeated learning, but the shorter the instruction years, the less often learning of factions is repeated. It is natural that the level of master also declines.

3. Transformation of Instruction Hours of Fractions


As mentioned in the previous section, the number of years of instructing fractions is decreasing. However, it is not clear if the instruction hours of fractions are decreasing or not. The recent Ministry of Educations instruction manual describes instruction hours for the whole year, but it does not say how many hours should be spent for fractions. Teachers carry out their instructions in accordance with teachers instruction manual published by textbook publisher. According to teachers manuals for fourth graders for 2002, there are wide differences in the instruction hours for fractions. Osaka Shoseki recommends eight hours for instructing fractions, Gakko Tosho, seven hours, Keirinkan, nine hours, Kyoiku Shuppan, 15 hours, Dainippon Tosho, 10 hours, and Tokyo Shoseki 12 hours. It is necessary to look at the change in instruction hours within the same textbook publisher. We show the results of the survey using the textbook and the instruction manual published by Gakko Tosho. Even if the number of years of teaching fractions in the Ministry of Educations instruction manual decreases, it is possible that the instruction hours may not decrease. Consequently, we carried out a survey on the instruction hours. We examined instruction of fractions using elementary school textbooks published by Gakko Tosho and the instruction schedules from 1951 to the present, but we could not simply compare the instruction hours. Before 1958, the Ministry of Education announced only its draft policy, which was not a tight guide for teachers at that time. Fractions were taught not only in elementary school but also in junior high school. We did not examine junior high school textbooks this time. It was only in 1958 and afterward that instruction of fractions came to be completed in elementary school. Textbooks came to be published in accordance with the instruction manual since 1958. According to the Ministry of Educations notices in 1958 and 1968, fractions should be taught for five years from the second through the sixth grades. According to the Ministry of Educations notices in 1978 and 1989, fractions should be taught in four years from the third through the sixth grades. In 1998, the Ministry of Education gave notice that fractions should be taught in only three years from the fourth through the sixth grades, which should be implemented in 2002. According to documents from Gakko Tosho, there was no instruction manual

before 1980 and no mention of the instruction hours. From 1958 to 1980, we can only estimate instruction hours through the number of pages in the textbooks. Because Gakko Toshos policy is to instruct one page in an hour, we can estimate the instruction hours through the number of pages. However, it was not clear exactly how many hours teachers actually spent for teaching fractions. We compare total instruction hours of fractions in elementary school from 1980 on because the instruction hours are clearly indicated in the teachers instruction manuals. The result clearly demonstrates a linear decrease in instruction hours. In conjunction with this trend, instruction years and the instruction hours as a whole by the Ministry of Educations instruction manual decreased. The number of instruction years of the Ministry of Educations notice in 1978 and 1989 remained the same, but the number of instruction hours decreased.

4. Kindergarteners Understanding of Fractions


4.1 Survey of Fractions Recognition In March 2004, we distributed questionnaire forms to 96 parents of kindergarteners in Yamagata-city and collected 73 completed questionnaire forms (The collection rate was 76%). 57 Fathers were salaried employees or public servants (teachers), seven were self-employed workers, and there were nine others. 45 mothers were full-time housewives, 13 were full-time employees, six were part-time employees, and there were nine others. As for the family structure of the respondents, the average number of children was 2.2 and the average age of kindergarteners was 5.1. There were 15 three- or four-year-olds, 35 five-year-olds, and 23 six-year-old children.

Regardless of age, most parents reported that the kindergarteners understood the notions of dividing into two, three, or four. On average, 24% reported that their children knew the word one half 16% reported that their children knew the words one third or one fourth most of them had the opinion that it is acceptable to teach the meaning of fractions when children have gotten to know the word fractions.
4.1.1 Parents Opinions about the Decrease of Instruction Years of Fractions We asked parents the following question. It is often said that recent university graduates do not understand fractions. In 1947, instruction of fractions was carried out in nine years from the first through the ninth grades. After that, there occurred many changes. According to the Ministry of Educations instruction manuals, instruction of fractions was carried out for five years from the second through the sixth grades from 1958 to 1977, in four years from the third through the sixth grades from 1978 to 2001, and only in three years from the fourth through the sixth grades from 2002. Thus, the instruction years gradually declined. What do you think of this trend? To this question, 98% parents were dissatisfied with the decrease of the instruction hours with the followings comments: It is too late to start instruction in the fourth grade. I hope they can learn fractions more slowly. I hope you can increase the number of instruction years. Instead of complicated calculation, I hope you can instruct the basics firmly. I hope you can instruct fractions in a concrete way at kindergarten and lower grades of elementary school. This is a bad effect of education without cramming. I sometimes wonder if it is appropriate to move on to calculation without understanding the meaning of fractions. You normally teach fractions using line segment, but it may be a good idea to use a more concrete example such as the way of dividing apples.

4.1.2 Time to Instruct Fractions: Parents Attitudes


We asked the following question: When do you think we should start teaching your children fractions?. Out of 73 respondents, 57 parents (78%) replied that we should start teaching fractions at the first, the second, or the third grade. One parent said it showed start at kindergarten and 12 (16%), from the fourth grade. The survey showed that regardless of age, parents thought kindergarteners understood the notion of dividing into two, three, and four. Nevertheless, our survey cannot tell whether they understood that division meant dividing equally. Consequently, we proposed the following experiment for kindergarteners.

4.2 Experiment Understanding of Fractions We conducted an experiment on five-year-old kindergarteners to see whether they understood the fact that dividing into two meant dividing equally. In October 2004, we conducted an experiment on five five-year-old kindergarteners S1, S2, S3, S4, and S5 (three girls and two boys) in the central district of Yamagata-city. S1 and S2 were five years and four months old. S3 and S4 were five years and 10 months old. S5 is five years and 11 months old (mean: 5.6 years old). 4.2.1 Experiment of Division

The experiment was conducted on individual basis. We placed a pile of 50 marbles on the table in front of the kindergarteners. (1) Please divide these marbles into two. (2) Please divide these marbles into three. (3) Please divide these marbles into four. We directed these three tasks at random.
4.2.2 One-to-One Correspondence Experiment

If some kindergarteners could not divide equally in the experiment of division, we conducted a oneto-one correspondence experiment after the three tasks. (4) Please divide these marbles among two people. (5) Please divide these marbles among three people. (6) Please divide these marbles among four people.
4.2.3 Results of Experiment S1, S2, S3, and S4 could not divide equally. S1 and S3 carried out measurement division. S2 and S4 considered dividing into two as taking out two. Only S5 could carry out equal division. S1 and S3 carried out dividing into two people, but they replied that they could not understand what it was meant to divide into three or four people. S2 could not carry out any task. S4 carried out all the one-to-one correspondence tasks. 4.3 Young children Understanding of Fractions As a result of experiments on kindergarteners, not all five-year-old children understood the notion of dividing equally. As for the five-year-old kindergarteners, one out of five carried out division equally. Two children carried out measurement division. In Japan, in the introduction of instructing fractions at the fourth grade, we spend one hour to teach measurement division. Our experiment demonstrated that some five-year-old kindergarteners understood measurement division. Five years old may be a dividing point for one-to-one corresponding division. Based on this preliminary experiment, we would like to conduct a full experiment on the young childrens understanding of dividing something and one-to-one corresponding division, the starting point of recognizing the number and fractions.

5. Conclusion
The failure to understand fractions is considered to be a major problem among the various aspects of the decline

in academic ability in Japan. Fractions have importance in connection with decimal numbers and in developing fractions into the abstractness of numbers. Consequently, we conducted a survey of the learning instruction manuals and instruction hours of fractions. As a result of investigating instruction contents of fractions in the Ministry of Educations learning instruction manuals from 1947 to the present, we found the years of instruction decreased constantly over the five decades. Moreover, as a result of examining the actual instruction of fractions in textbooks published by Gakko Tosho and their instruction schedules from 1951 to the present, we found changes and the instruction hours also decreased. Decreases of the instruction years and the instruction hours can be considered as a cause of decline in academic ability. Because it seems necessary to repeat basic calculation across many grades, we feel it risky to decrease the instruction years and the instruction hours. We would like to sound an alarm on the decrease of instruction hours of arithmetic and mathematics in the name of education without cramming. As a result of an experiment conducted on five kindergarteners, one five-year-old child understood sharing division; two understood measurement division that is taught at the fourth grade. Because parents responded to our survey that most of their children knew the word fractions, it is better to teach them the meaning of fractions when they become familiar with the word. At present, we begin instructing fractions at the fourth grade, but we propose that we should start teaching at the lower grade. We would also like to solicit kindergartens to develop appropriate instruction materials to teach numbers and fractions in kindergarteners play.

Reference Baba Imiko (2002). Information Education by means of Computer Music, The Third International conference on Mathematics Education and Cultural History of Mathematics in this Information-Oriented society Proceedings, pp. 181-184. Baba Imiko & Iwasaki Syoichi (2003). Analogue Representation of fractions, 4th International Conference on Cognitive Science Proceedings, Vol.1, pp. 31-36.

Acknowledgment This study was supported in part by a grant from the Tohoku University 21st Century Center of Excellence (COE) Program in Humanities: A Strategic Research and Education Center for an Integrated Approach to Language and Cognition.