I think a great way to understand what decimals are is to put decimals into a table. As you can see from the table below, decimals can be written in many ways. One example of this is the number 0.1 can be written as 1 tenth, 10 raised to the -1, or 1/10. Decimals are base-ten units; therefore, we use the unit ten in the table.
The United States separates numbers with commas every third number: 5,853,567.75; however, many other places around the world separate their numbers with spaces and use a comma the way the United States uses the decimal point like this 5 853 597,75. I think this is a very interesting fact! Another thing I learned is that the number 0.0000000009 is easier to read if we put spaces every third number: 0.000 000 000 9. If we put spaces it does not mean anything different; it is just to help us count the zeros or read the number easier. These are great tips to keep in mind while working with decimals.
As you can see from the decimal table, decimals can be written in many ways; essentially a decimal is a fraction. I say this because 0.732 is 732/1000 and can be written as 732 thousandths. Another example of this is 0.20 is 20/100 and can be written as 20 hundredths. No matter the decimal number it can always be written as a fraction which may be easier for some people. You can also look at a decimal by expanding it. If we look back at the decimal 0.732 we can break it down into three parts 0.732=0.7+0.03+0.002. This can also be written as 732/1000=7/10+30/100+200/1000. Decimals are very versatile which allows for many different strategies to understand them better!
Did you know fractions are easier to picture in your head if you estimate? I have learned from experience that fractions truly are easier if you use estimation. An example of this is 7/8 + 1/3, this may look tricky if we actually were to work out the problem and find the same denominator. If we were to attempt this problem using estimation, we could say that 7/8 is almost equivalent to 8/8 (1), and 1/3 is a little larger than 1/4. If we add 1 +1/4, the answer is 1 1/4. Although this may not be the exact answer, it gives us a good idea of what the fraction will be. This is an easy way to compare fractions and gain a better understanding of them!
Another great way to help gain an understanding of fractions is by using fraction bars. Fraction bars are rectangular shaped pieces of paper that are divided up into different amounts. The different amounts are the fractions that the shape equals. For example, I have 5 different fraction bars: twelfths, sixths, fourths, thirds, and halves. The rectangles that represent twelfths are divided into 12 sections; the rectangles that represent sixths are divided into 6 sections, and so on. These are great tools to work out fraction problems. Finding a fraction between 2/6 and 3/6 is easier with fraction bars. This may sound easy, but it is hard to figure out if you do not have a good understanding of fractions. Let’s use fraction bars to help us out; for starters we will need a 2/6 fraction bar and a 3/6 fraction bar. If we set these fractions bars side by side, we can easily see that 5/12 is between both 2/6 and 3/6. I found this by looking for a fraction bar that was in between 2/6 and 3/6.
When dealing with whole numbers and fractions, it is easier to set them up into improper fractions. To set up an improper fraction you need to multiply the denominator by the whole number and add the numerator. We do this because we are essentially looking for a common denominator. An example of this is 4 1/2, we start with 2(denominator) x 4(whole number) = 8, then we add 1 (numerator) = 9/2. 9/2 is an improper fraction because the numerator is larger than the denominator. We can also find the improper fraction by finding the common denominator. 4 1/2 can also be written as 4/1 + 1/2; in order to find the common denominator we need to multiply the 4 by 2. Once this is done we can add the two fractions together which gives us the sum of 9/2. This idea is helpful when adding and subtracting fractions: 1 2/3 = 5/3 – 1/3= 4/3. Take your time to learn fractions because I think it is a great tool that we can use in our daily lives.
Fractions can be confusing and hard to understand. It can be easy to misread or do a problem wrong that is dealing with fractions. For example, in the problem 5/3 +3/3 many may get confused and say the answer is 8/6. This is wrong because you cannot add two like denominators in the problem. Denominators are the numbers on the bottom of the fraction; in this case the denominator in 5/3 and 3/3 is 3. It is less likely to get confused if 5/3 is written as 5 thirds and 3/3 is written as 3 thirds. Clearly, you can see that the denominator is going to stay 3 or a third. You do not add the denominators (3+3=6) because that is not correct. This is a nice tip to follow especially if you are teaching younger students who have never dealt with fractions before.
Another great tip to help learn more about fractions is having the same unit. For example, if you have 2 yards + 9 feet you cannot add them because yards and feet are not the same unit. In this case you would have to convert one of the units in order to make them both have the same unit. You can do this two different ways with the example provided: yards can convert to feet and feet can convert to yards. Let’s convert 2 yards into feet. In order to do this we must know how many feet are in a yard, which is 3. So if there are 3 feet in a yard and we have 2 yards that means there are 6 feet in 2 yards. Now we can do the problem! 6 feet +9 feet = 15 feet.
I found that drawing measuring cups helps to understand the conversions between halfs and fourths. For example, if we have 3 halfs + 1 fourth it may be confusing to solve the problem if you don’t have something to look at. First of all we need to convert either halfs to fourths or fourths to halfs. I am going to solve the problem by converting halfs to fourths because a fourth is smaller than a half. I have included a picture of measuring cups to work out the problem. The end result is 6 fourths + 1 fourth= 7 fourths.