Original Research-Special Collection: Teaching and learning: mathematics, science, design, technology in the Early Years

Pre-service primary Mathematics teachers’ understanding of fractions: An action–process–object–schema perspective

Ifunanya J.A Ubah, Sarah Bansilal
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 8, No 2 | a539 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v8i2.539 | © 2018 Ifunanya J.A Ubah, Sarah B Bansilal | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 May 2017 | Published: 29 November 2018

About the author(s)

Ifunanya J.A Ubah, Department of Science, Technology and Mathematics, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Sarah Bansilal, Department of Science, Technology and Mathematics, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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Background: The concept of rational numbers is one of the learner’s first experiences with a Mathematics concept beyond the basic skills operations on whole numbers. The personal knowledge of fractions that teachers bring to the teaching context is important because teachers mediate the conceptions that their learners construct.

Aim: This study was set up to apply Action–Process–Object–Schema theory to study primary teachers’ understanding of addition and subtraction of fractions.

Setting: The participants of this study comprised 60 undergraduate full-time students, studying to become teachers. The participants were enrolled in a foundational course in Mathematics because they had not passed Mathematics at Grade 12 level. This course was intended to help deepen their understanding of basic numeracy, allowing them to continue with further courses if they wanted to specialise in teaching primary mathematics

Methods: Data were collected using written responses of the pre-service students to two tasks that focused on operations with fractions. Ten students volunteered to be interviewed of which three are drawn upon in this article.

Results: Many of the pre-service teachers coped well with addition and subtraction of common fractions with the same denominator. However, more than 52% struggled to carry out these operations on common fractions with different denominators, showing that their conceptions had not developed into object-level structures.

Conclusion: It is evident that the incorrect procedures have become embedded in the students mental schema. It is crucial that programmes for upgrading pre-service teachers should include opportunities for teachers to interrogate their personal understandings of the basic mathematics concepts.


APOS theory; Fraction; Fraction addition; Fraction subtraction; Pre-service mathematics teachers


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