Tips for teaching order of operations part one: getting started with order of operations

mathblocksThe order of operations is an important concept in math.  It’s also a frustrating concept to teach and learn.  Most students need lots of practice, multiple tips, and a myriad of ways to think about good old PEMDAS*.

Part one: getting started with order of operations

Don’t grade while you’re teaching.  You want to create a risk-free environment for students to learn order of operations.  Give them lots of practice, let them help each other, but don’t assess them.  Not formally, at least.  Don’t grade the homework for accuracy.  Give the kids a chance to learn before you assess them.

Plan at least a week just to get the basic concept.  Years of experience taught me that most students need a lot of time to grasp order of operations.  Students get frustrated as they are learning the concept.  Warn them in advance that most of them will take a while to learn this.

Scaffold the lessons.  Break order of operations into baby steps.  Students will need lots of practice with 3 + 2 x 4 before they deal with more complicated problems.  I recommend that you use individual whiteboards or no-budget whiteboards (page protectors) so that you can create problems that suit what your students need from moment to moment.

Give real-world examples.  One of the most common uses of order of operations is shopping.  Tell students a little story about buying 3 of one item, 4 of another, etc.  Then, add the tax to the whole thing if you think your class is ready for that.  After you’ve told the story, write the equation on the board.  Label each number.  The idea is for students to see why you can’t add the number of bananas to the cost of oranges, just because they happen to be next to each other in your example.

Teach kids to give themselves a checklist.  Model and require your students to write PEMDAS next to each problem.  They can use the acronym as a checklist to make sure they are following order of operations as they solve the problem.

*PEMDAS: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.  Don’t get creative with the acronym.  This is what every math teacher after you will use.

Posted in Academics,Math,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jun 9, 2014


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