Fraction Magnitude: Mapping Between Symbolic and Spatial Representations of Proportion

Michelle Ann Hurst, Marisa Massaro, Sara Cordes


Fraction notation conveys both part-whole (3/4 is 3 out of 4) and magnitude (3/4 = 0.75) information, yet evidence suggests that both children and adults find accessing magnitude information from fractions particularly difficult. Recent research suggests that using number lines to teach children about fractions can help emphasize fraction magnitude. In three experiments with adults and 9-12-year-old children, we compare the benefits of number lines and pie charts for thinking about rational numbers. In Experiment 1, we first investigate how adults spontaneously visualize symbolic fractions. Then, in two further experiments, we explore whether priming children to use pie charts vs. number lines impacts performance on a subsequent symbolic magnitude task and whether children differentially rely on a partitioning strategy to map rational numbers to number lines vs. pie charts. Our data reveal that adults very infrequently spontaneously visualize fractions along a number line and, contrary to other findings, that practice mapping rational numbers to number lines did not improve performance on a subsequent symbolic magnitude comparison task relative to practice mapping the same magnitudes to pie charts. However, children were more likely to use overt partitioning strategies when working with pie charts compared to number lines, suggesting these representations did lend themselves to different working strategies. We discuss the interpretations and implications of these findings for future research and education. All materials and data are provided as Supplementary Materials.


fractions; number lines; pie charts; decimals; area models; magnitude; rational numbers

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Copyright (c) 2020 Hurst; Massaro; Cordes