Fractions are not just there to give you a headache. Actually, you probably already use fractions without even knowing it. And without fractions, you wouldn’t be able to tell time or cook with recipes. Learn more in this lesson.

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Math & Shopping

Imagine you’re shopping with your $100 in birthday money. You really want a few items you’ve had your eye on for a while, but they’re all very expensive. You’re waiting for the items to go on sale, and when they do, you rush down to the store. Instead of being marked with a new price, though, the store has a large sign that reads:

All items are currently 75% off

. This sounds like great news, but without doing some math, there’s no way to know if you have enough money. Knowing that 75% is ¾ off the cost of each item is the best way to get started. Who knew that fractions could help your wardrobe?

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Fractions

Fractions

are numbers that aren’t whole, and mean just like they sound: a fraction, or a part of something bigger. Fractions have two numbers, a

numerator

(the part) and a

denominator

(the whole). When you first learned fractions, you probably did not see a point to having to learn them, but did you know that fractions are so useful, you already use them in your everyday life?

That’s right! In the first example, you went shopping and had to use fractions to determine cost after a discount. What about when you’re cooking? Have you ever wanted to double a recipe for cookies so you would have more cookies to eat? Or what about telling time? Here again, fractions are used. Let’s look at these examples.

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Cooking

Have you ever tried baking and not following a recipe? Open up any cookbook and you’ll see recipes full of fractions. Baking goodies, such as cakes and cookies, requires the exact amount of each ingredient. Missing even one tablespoon of something can dramatically change the way something tastes. While following a recipe seems easy, what happens when you want to double it to make more? This is where fractions come in when you cook.

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If a recipe calls for 2 ¼ cups flour and you want to double it, knowing your fractions will help you determine that you need 4 ½ cups of flour. Or, if the recipe calls to cut the chocolate bar into quarters, knowing your fractions will help you easily determine that you need four equal pieces, or four ¼ pieces. Either way, you are using fractions. Follow the recipe exactly and put in the right amounts of your ingredients, and you’ll end up with a delicious dinner and dessert. But this would never happen unless you had fractions to help you.

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Telling Time

Much like baking, we use fractions to tell time. Imagine a clock being a whole circle, and each minute is a piece of the whole. If you want to meet your friend at half past 4, you use fractions to determine the time. If you’re baking (again) and you have to check the oven 4 times in the hour, you use fractions to determine how often you should check. 4/4 equals one whole, 60 minutes. ¼ of 60 equals 15 minutes. Checking on your food every 15 minutes will ensure a delicious treat.

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Shopping

We already went to the mall in our first example and discussed how fractions are an important part of shopping. Discounts are written as percentages, which are really fractions. The word

percent

means out of a hundred, so 20% is really 20/100. Whenever you need to calculate a discount, you can convert your percentage into a fraction and then multiply the fraction by your retail price.

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Lesson Summary

Let’s review.

Fractions

are those numbers that aren’t whole but tell you how much of a whole you have. Some examples of fractions include:

½, ¾, 5

The top number is referred to as the

numerator

, and the bottom number is your

denominator

. Fractions are important because they tell you what portion of a whole you need, have, or want. Fractions are used in baking to tell how much of an ingredient to use. Fractions are used in telling time; each minute is a fraction of the hour. Finally, fractions are used to determine discounts when there’s a sale going on.

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