In a landmark study, analysis of large, nationally representative longitudinal data sets from the United States and England has revealed that an early understanding of fractions and division uniquely predicts how well a student will perform in algebra and higher level math later on – this after controlling for a wide range of relevant variables such as general intellectual ability, working memory and family income and education.
How best can we use this information?
There are a number of simple things that parents and teachers can do to help young learners develop a better understanding of key math concepts. First and foremost: make it visual. Manipulatives such as blocks and Legos help students visualize fractions and basic operations such as division. Then lift the learning to the practical world. Help children see that math is everywhere. If sodas come in 12-packs and only half are needed, how many are left? If a pizza has 12 pieces, how can you divide them equally among 3 friends?
The more students are exposed to these concepts early on, the more likely they are to succeed in math later in their education. The study notes that children who start ahead in mathematics generally stay ahead, and children who start behind generally stay behind.