University of Leicester research helps primary teachers tackle tricky maths teaching

A new book from University of Leicester researchers is aimed at helping primary school teachers to teach fractions and decimals effectively.

Fractions and decimals have long been recognised as being difficult to teach well. Previous research has shown that many pupils in secondary schools continue to lack fluency in this area of mathematics, indicating that more needs to be done in primary schools to strengthen foundational knowledge. Primary school teachers’ own knowledge and understanding is a key component to this challenge because those who lack confidence in their own subject knowledge of fractions and decimals may struggle to ensure that children develop a sound conceptual understanding.

Research from a team led by University of Leicester experts set about to address the issue, and the result is teachers’ handbook, Making Fractions.

The book was written by three leading researchers in primary maths education: Professor Rose Griffiths, from Leicester’s School of Education, Dr Jenni Back and Dr Sue Gifford.

Ruth Maisey, Programme Head, Education, at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the research, said: “Numeracy skills are important in their own right, but if the government wants more children to study maths after the age of 16, then it’s vital that primary school pupils build solid foundations in fractions and decimals. We’re delighted to see how evidence from Nuffield-funded research has led to the creation of these new resources to help teachers deliver strong maths lessons.”

Prof Griffiths said: “The handbook shows teachers how to make children’s learning about fractions and decimals more effective and more enjoyable.

“We know that children can understand and use quite complex mathematical ideas if they can see the ‘story’ behind them. So that’s where we started. Why did people need fractions and decimals? What do these numbers help us do? Sharing and measuring are two of the most important contexts – so you can share three muffins between two people, or be more accurate when you are measuring how far you can jump.”

The book provides a wealth of engaging activities which support investigation and problem-solving across the age range three to 11, to build children’s confidence and fluency.

Two lively accompanying animations are available free on the Oxford University Press website for teachers, OxfordOwl: find out how Elephant and friends share jam tarts, or how Dragon and Sheep add up tenths of a kilogram.

The underlying research and development is outlined in three free documents: A guide to the use of practical tasks and manipulatives in the teaching of fractions and decimals with children aged 3 to 11: Main Report, Review of Research and Examples for Teachers.

Buy Making Fractions on the Oxford University Press website.