Susan Midlarsky

author • consultant • tutor | inspiring excellence
Child jumping
Common Core Common Core State Standards dyscalculia Fractions Homeschool Math Education Middle school Multiple Intelligences Professional Development Special Needs Tutoring

Fraction Jacks! Or if you’re British, Fraction Stars.

A common problem educators face is to make fractions fun and intuitive, especially if their own education was lacking in this respect.

One activity I developed that helps with this, and can be done with children of a variety of ages, is Fraction Jacks.

What are fraction jacks? They are not the game with the bouncing ball and the funny-shaped pieces, though I’m sure something great could be developed with those.

Instead, they are a physical activity that uses kinesthetic intelligence and mind-body connections to understand fractions. Here is how to do them.

Child jumping
  1. Ask students if they know how to do a regular jumping jack. (In the UK, these are called “Jumping Stars.”) Have them demonstrate their prowess, and correct their attempts as needed. Explain that this is a “whole jack” (or “whole star”).
  2. Then ask if they can guess what a half jack (or half star) might be. Many might show arms only going up, or one arm and one leg, meaning half a jack splitting the body vertically. Since one purpose of these jacks is to engage intense movement, a half jack is actually a jump with legs out, and then a jump with legs back in, like a whole jack but with no arms involved.
  3. The next movement is a three-quarter jack. Again, engage students in trying to figure it out. After that, explain that the way to do it is a half jack (legs only) plus one arm going up.
  4. The final movement is a quarter jack. Can your students guess that it’s just hopping up and down once on one foot?

If you or your students have figured out that we are using limbs like fourths of our body, congratulations! This will help them visualize the math for next steps.

Now that we know how fraction jacks work, how can we use them? Here are some ideas, though the options are endless.

  • Play Simon Says, calling out the different jacks and numbers of them. For example, “Simon says do two half jacks and three quarter jacks.”
  • Have students call out jacks to do for the whole class or in small groups or partners.
  • For older students who are learning to compose or decompose fractions, pose further challenges. For example, “Show me the fraction two and three fourths using at least six movements.” That will keep the number of “whole” jacks down to one, maximum. Or, “Use at least three different types of jacks, make a fraction. Then tell us the fraction you have made.”

If you use these in your class, please let me know in the comments!

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