This week I had to teach a Year 6 lesson with a colleague, without much time to prepare. They were thinking about how to convert between fractions decimals and percentages.
I remember very clearly from my early attempts at teaching this topic how many children used to struggle with this. They would say things like “I can’t remember, am I supposed to multiply or divide by 100 ?”
It became pretty obvious that trying to force-feed what essentially was 6 different rules (depending on what permutation of fraction, decimal or percentage you wanted to convert from and to) was not a great strategy.
I knew I had to approach it differently, and after years of trial and improvement, with a variety of techniques, manipulatives and diagrams, I finally settled on a strategy which served me well.
During the first few weeks of 2020 when Covid forced many of us to work from home, I set about making a video to explain this strategy. You can watch it here. I am also very happy for you to download it free of charge and use it in your own school if you wish.
Yesterday we started the lesson with that video. It seemed as though quite a few children were amazed to see that decimals and percentages were simply a subset of fractions, and with a very limited range of denominators.
I also remembered that a few years ago, I had even created a downloadable resource to go alongside it. It’s now a PDF called Fraction Jigsaws which is an ideal companion and which we used with great success in our lesson this week. A hurried root about on the laptop and a trip to the photocopier and we were ready. By the end of the lesson, I knew I had to update the book, and spent a happy couple of hours doing exactly that.
This experience is one of the many reasons I love teaching: we can learn from what works, what doesn’t, and improve our resources and explanations accordingly. My lesson yesterday was light years away from the disastrous one I taught 30 years ago – not because I’m smarter, far from it. It’s just that, like Thomas Edison and his lightbulb, I’ve had more time to discover and try out more things that didn’t work. And think about why. And that didn’t happen overnight.
I realise now that if I’m a better teacher than I used to be, it’s not because of the things I got right; it’s because of what I learnt from all the things I didn’t.
So while I understand that young teachers can bring energy and enthusiasm (plus lower salary costs!), please don’t forget that those older, perhaps slightly slower, or more skeptical, but highly-experienced teachers in your school might still have more value than you realise!
For the next few days the Fraction Jigsaws are on sale at half-price; check them out here.