Materials Highlight: The Fraction Insets
For this month’s Materials Highlight we bring you the fraction insets; a beautiful set of metal templates resting on slanted wooden trays. As you can see in the photo above, the insets range from one whole through tenths, and each piece has a small knob allowing children to move them easily.
But before we get to the insets, perhaps we should back up just a bit.
Prior to an introduction to fractions, the child has had extensive instruction and experiences with numeration being based on the unit. One unit (or one, one whole, etc.) has been the basis by which they have learned to count, skip count, add, and subtract. As the child enters lower elementary, they are ready to learn who we may divide a unit.
This work often starts with an apple. The Montessori guide sits the children in a small group and tells them the apple will be divided for them to share. They then proceed to cut the apple without any regard to straight or even lines, creating small chunks and larger ones. The children quickly realize the injustice in distributing such apple slices, so the guide takes out a second apple to cut it evenly and impart the importance of equal slices being fair. The stage is set for learning about fractions.
It’s important to note that while the most commonly used and popular fraction insets are circular, there are also triangular and square fraction insets. It’s important for guides to refer to this at times so the children have an understanding that anything may be divided, not just circles.
The first time children use the insets they are encouraged to observe what they notice, and they develop the concept that each inset is a family of sorts. “These are the thirds, these are the sixths, etc.”
The guide will make a point to use intentional language to create a firm basis in understanding: “This circle is divided into four equal parts. We call them fourths.” The guide will write out “fourths” as well as “/4” as children are able to verbally express their understanding.