Teach Your Kids Arithmetic - Fractions, Percents, and Decimals

Admittedly fractions are trouble for most students. In my previous article I talked about why this is so. Percents and decimals too present their share of problems to young students--adults as well. There is an interesting connection between these three mathematical entities and here it is: fractions, percents, and decimals are variations of one and the same thing. When I pointed this relationship out during one of my lessons, one student looked at me in amazement and said that he never realized that. This boy had gone through school for twelve years--he was a senior in high school--and never saw that connection. When I would stress this relationship throughout my different classes, I would get similar reactions from many students: they just never saw that connection. Now this is a problem with mathematics education in this country. Connections are not made between topics in this difficult discipline. For this reason, students are left scratching their heads wondering when in the world they will ever use something like a decimal, a fraction, or a percent, even though these basic things are literally encountered everyday. This failure to connect math to reality harks back to questions like "Why are manhole covers round?", which I presented in my article "Why Study Math - The Circle." For those educators reading this, they know that a common rebuttal of the math student is "When am I ever going to use this?" In fact, a common gripe I would hear is "This is totally useless stuff." In preparation for these questions, I worked diligently so that I could show students that there actually was a connection--a reason--why they were studying the particular lesson at hand. For the topic at hand--fractions, percents, and decimals--students must be made aware that a fraction is a percent and that a percent is a decimal. Once students know that they are dealing with one and the same thing, and not three separate ones, they feel less overwhelmed from having to know all about percents, all about fractions, and all about decimals: when students now see 1/4, they know that this is a mathematical synonym for 25% or 0.25. As obvious as this may seem to those who understand it, this relationship eludes many students, and they end up ignorant about this fact, much like the senior of mine mentioned earlier. Moreover, once connections like this are made in this area, connections and links are made in other areas as well. Then mathematics is not so formidable as one would make it.