Tips for teaching order of operations part two: practicing and perfecting PEMDAS

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 two: practicing and perfecting PEMDAS

Let students make practice problems.  Kids love to play teacher.  Have them create problems for the class to solve.  You can take a seat with the students and try the problems with everyone else.  Taking the part of a student is good for you, too.  You can feel the anxiety they experience as each new problem goes on the board.

Tell kids that PEMDAS is the default.  Many students get through lessons on order of operations only to disregard them when they see equations a few months later.   Many students don’t realize that they should always use order of operations.  I tell kids that they should always use it unless a problem specifically says otherwise.  (This would be a written mental-math problem on a standardized test.)

Warn kids of the PEMDAS pitfall: you’re just as confident when you’re getting it wrong.  Assuming your students know their basic facts (and that’s assuming a lot), then the math in order of operations problems won’t be hard for them.  Their competence with basic facts might lead them to think they’re doing well, even if they left PEMDAS behind a long time ago.

Warn students that if the math gets hard, they probably made a PEMDAS mistake.  Most practice order of operations problems do not involve difficult calculations and extra-long division.  If your kids find themselves mired in deep calculations, they probably made a wrong PEMDAS turn somewhere along the road.

Find practice problems online.

Math-aids.com has an excellent Order of Operations section with scaffolded lessons to help you give the kids non-intimidating practice.

Dad’s Worksheets has a great Order of Operations section, too.

I highly recommend both sites.  In fact, I have written quite a few blog posts that link to them.  Click for the post about Dad’s Worksheets and here for the post about Math-Aids.

*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 16, 2014

 

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