Tuesday, March 31, 2015

[Pri20150330FBT] Open-ended Question on #Fractions

Question
 Give a fraction with its value in between 2/5 and 1/2.  (Note: the denominator cannot be greater than 20)

Discussion

This is an open-ended question for primary (elementary) school, which ought to be easy because there are many possible answers and you just need to supply one that meets the requirements.  However, most people are used to closed-ended questions, which have only one correct answer.  This is what prompted a parent to pose this question on a parent-support forum on Facebook.

Many people, including parents and even some private tutors, began to supply their answers to this question.  Much of the discussion clustered around the idea of the mid-point or the average of the two given numbers, namely 1/2 (2/5 + 1/2) or  9/20, and why that gives an answer.

Then Dr Kho Tek Hong (retired curriculum specialist, the “father” of Singapore mathematics) chipped in.  He said that there are many possible answers e.g. 3/7, 4/9, 5/11, 5/12, 6/13, etc.  He suggests that students be asked to justify their answers.  [ By the way, here is an interesting method to compare fractions. ]

And I thought that was a stroke of educational brilliance from The Guru!  It shows the spirit of the Singapore mathematics curriculum – to get students to think, to be open-minded, to use logic and to be able to communicate mathematically.  The Singapore curriculum is not meant to torture students, nor to get them to toil around a tortuous path around a high mountain seeking the elusive holy grail – although it often seems that way.  Teachers, tutors and parents would do well to help the learners it in the right spirit.  Mathematics is not always about calculations (although you need to do some calculation).  We also need to open our minds to multiple answers as well as to embrace various methods and concepts.