In this video from Education Week, Zachary Champagne, an assistant in research at FCR-STEM at Florida State University describes how to teach fractions using a different approach than the current norm.
Students today are most frequently taught using the “area model,” in which equal-sized sections of a shape are colored in to correspond with a fraction: two quarters of a rectangle are colored in to depict a half; one-fifth of a circle is colored in to represent how one might split a pizza among five friends.
This is a useful model, but it often starts to lose meaning for students once the concept of unlike denominators is brought up. All of a sudden, the visual model becomes less useful, and new vocabulary and conceptually challenging procedures are rapidly introduced.
This video suggests depicting fractions on a number line alongside the area model. This way, fractions are grounded within the concept of whole numbers, which students should be more comfortable with. When more difficult problems involving unlike denominators arise, students will be able to visually estimate on the number line to see if their answers are within the ballpark of possible solutions.