Math + Music = Elementary Fraction Success
By far, one of the most difficult concepts in elementary mathematics is fractions...and it is all our fault. One of the major misconceptions among many education systems was that early exposure to fractions would help students learn them. This meant attempting to introduce fractions before students could even multiply or divide. You have no idea the trauma this has had among decades of students. Education systems created self-induced math anxiety.
For years I had to address what I can only describe as fraction PTSD. I had talented Algebra students immediately clam up if the problem had a fraction. Now as a teacher I of course did my job and we spent time trying to get ourselves comfortable with fractions but in the back of my mind I knew I was using valuable class time to address an issue that simply shouldn't even rear it's ugly head in Algebra. But every year it was there. Students were crying, parents were crying, and teachers were crying over the fraction crisis but what could we do? This problem stemmed from a decade of students being conditioned to think they were simply bad at fractions and that their chances of solving any fraction problem were slim to none.
It reminded me of the way they used to train elephants to stay in the zoo by chaining them for so long eventually they would just hammer in the stake and the elephant would just assume it was chained up. If that is animal cruelty, what the education system had done to students surely falls under some crime of humanity.
So what is the solution? Other than school wide remediation plans that are costly and cumbersome (I know, I've taught them) I propose making music a more major part of the 3 R's of early education. And not just singing songs, students need to be exposed to basic music theory. It is a major application of basic fractions...what better way to explain half-notes, quarter-notes, and eighth-notes...etc. Being able to count rhythms and recognize patterns are the building blocks of mathematical comprehension and quite possibly building a comfort level with fractions that will last far into the rest of their education.
For the rest of you still struggling with fractions, my biggest tip is to start farther back than you think you need to and not to be ashamed of it. Like I said, it's most likely not you fault and who knows, while you are learning fractions you might want to learn a new instrument. Piano lessons might help you learn fractions in ways you never knew you could.