Fractions as the coordination of multiplicatively related quantities: A cross-sectional study of children's thinking

Susan B. Empson, Debra Junk, Higinio Dominguez, Erin Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Although equal sharing problems appear to support the development of fractions as multiplicative structures, very little work has examined how children's informal solutions reflect this possibility. The primary goal of this study was to analyze children's coordination of two quantities (number of people sharing and number of things being shared) in their solutions to equal sharing problems and to see to what extent this coordination was multiplicative. A secondary goal was to document children's solutions for equal sharing problems in which the quantities had a common factor (other than 1). Data consisted of problem-solving interviews with students in 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades (n=112). We found two major categories of strategies: (a) Parts Quantities strategies and (b) Ratio Quantities strategies. Parts quantities involved children's partitions of continuous units expressed in terms of the number of pieces that would be created. Ratio quantities involved children's creation of associated sets of discrete quantities. Within these strategies, children drew upon a range of relationships among fractions, ratio, multiplication, and division to mentally or physically manipulate quantities of sharers and things to produce exhaustive and equal partitions of the items. Additionally, we observed that problems that included number combinations with common factors elicited a wider range of whole-number knowledge and operations in children's strategies and therefore appeared to support richer interconnections than problems with relatively prime or more basic number combinations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Children's strategies
  • Distributed thinking
  • Elementary K-8
  • Equal sharing
  • Fractions
  • Multiplicative structure
  • Problem solving
  • Rational number

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Fractions as the coordination of multiplicatively related quantities: A cross-sectional study of children's thinking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this