Teaching equivalent fractions – five cognitive difficulties to address

This post is less about e-learning than about maths programme design in a wider sense, but it was inspired by reading a study on e-learning resources. I came across this statement when reading a PhD thesis from Arla Westenskow at Utah State University (you can find the original doc here). The thesis was about using physical and virtual manipulatives (applets etc) to help struggling maths students to learn equivalent fractions.

Five cognitive difficulties many students have in developing equivalent fraction understanding have been identified in the literature: (a) conceptualizing fractions as a quantity, (b) partitioning into equal subparts, (c) identifying the unit or whole, (d) building sets of equivalent fractions, and (e) representation model distractions.

How could this influence our teaching of fractions? I haven’t been teaching long and am just starting to move beyond the basic knowledge-delivery with teaching this topic. If we were to focus on each of these five cognitive difficulties and nail them, what would that look like? What resources can you share or suggest that could be useful for this? For those of you who are already doing this or partially doing this, can you share your insight or experience? Keen to pick your brains.

The thesis goes on to explore and discuss using manipulatives for remediating these five difficulties but the focus is more on the effectiveness of the types of manipulatives (which is why I’m reading it for my e-learning assignment), rather than focusing on the best way to remediate the difficulties from a more holistic programme-design perspective. Thoughts?

Leave a comment


  1. I suggest treating fractions as a way forward when measuring, when the measurement of the attribute is not a whole number. Forget for now about pizzas, get a ruler and measure the length of anything. What is half an inch? Oh look, half an inch is the same as two quarter inches., so 2/4 = 1/2 and so on. Get them to see that a fraction is the result of a division: one apple divided into two equal pieces is 2 half apples. And so on. And do not let the notation and symbolism get in the way.

  2. Just came back for another look.
    I do not see any problem with so-called equivalent fractions, if fractions are seen as numbers, because, very simply, 2/4 and 1/2 are two different ways of writing the SAME fraction. The same goes for 17/51 and 1/3 ….


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: