Engaging students: Order of operations

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Lisa Sun. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: order of operations.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

Given that my students have knowledge on the topic of Order of Operations, I will provide them a project where they must apply their knowledge and present it in front of their peers. Students will each receive a number from me and they must create a mathematical problem, an equation, using all of PEMDAS (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction).

Students will then present individually in front of their peers at the board. The presenter’s role is to be the teacher. To have the ability to clearly vocalize his/her thought process to achieve their given number with the use of PEMDAS. As each student presents, the audience will be following along on a sheet of paper where they must also solve the equation that the presenter created. This paper must be turned in along with their own project to document that they were paying attention. The audience’s role is to be the grader. To make sure that the presenter’s use of PEMDAS was correct to achieve the number that was given to them. If the presenter’s use of PEMDAS is incorrect, I will select an audience member to explain. The presenter will then have to come present their project again to me before or after school so that I can make sure there is no misconception regarding the Order of Operations.

To help motivate the students’ to be precise with their project, I would state that if all students were able to display their use of PEMDAS correctly, everyone would receive 5 extra points on the upcoming test. I believe that this project would be great for students to strengthen their knowledge on Order of Operations. As they are taking up on their roles as the grader, they are physically and mentally reinforcing their knowledge by solving problems after problems. As the teacher, they are verbally reinforcing their knowledge.


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How has this topic appeared in pop culture?

Figure 1: Pokémon Center Lego

Pokémon Go is the craze among society today and I believe it would be fitting to engage the class with both Pokémon and Legos. I would present this to the class, preferably one that is physically available to the class and ask the following questions:

  • When building this Lego figure, do you think procedures need to be followed sequentially?
  • What happens if they are not? (Display to the class what the Lego figure would look like).

I would discuss why doing things in order is important tying it with Orders of Operations. Display a problem with Orders of Operations but solve it by not following PEMDAS (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction) and state that the solution comes out to be incorrect. Similar to how the Lego that was built in the wrong order didn’t match up with the picture on the box.


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I believe YouTube can be a great learning tool in the classroom when it comes to engaging students. People of all demographics post helpful tools on this site that are so easily relatable to students today. Below is a video of a PEMDAS rap song.

I will be playing this PEMDAS rap song as students are walking into class to quickly engage the students. Once class has officially started, I would play this video again as students are reading the lyrics and following along the two examples the video provided. This video is to aid the students to remember the Orders of Operations by the use of PEMDAS (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction). To engage the students even more, I would have the students sing along the chorus. “Parentheses first, exponents next, multiplication and division in the same step. Addition and subtraction, if you got the nerve, from left to right, first come first serve”.  Hopefully, this song will be catchy enough for the students to have it be stuck in their head for a while.






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