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 Megan Termini. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: order of operations.

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How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?


The order of operations appears in pop culture in many different ways. An example is the song “Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid. There are certain steps that you do in a specific order. If you do not follow the order, then it is no longer the cupid shuffle. An activity would be incorporating the order of operations into the “Cupid Shuffle”. For example, the chorus is,

“Parentheses, Parentheses, Parentheses, Parentheses,

Exponents, Exponents, Exponents, Exponents,

Now Mult. or Div., Now Mult. or Div.

Now Add or Subtract, Now Add or Subtract.”

There are certain dance moves to go along with each step in the song. Here is a video of some students doing the song and dance (Reference A). This is a very effective way of teaching the students the order of operations(PEMDAS) because many students love music and dancing, and they are more likely to remember the song and dance moves than just memorizing the order itself.


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


There are tons of activities that you could do that involve the order of operations. As the teacher, you would want to create an activity that is fun and engaging for the students. Something that involves everyone in the class and not just a few students. One activity that would-be fun is Order of Operations War. Many students love playing the card game war. Now it is the same game just involving the order of operations. Each student will get a deck of cards and evenly deal them. Then they will get note cards with each of the operations on it. They will each flip 3 cards, arrange them with the operations and try to get as close to the target number as they can. The person who gets the closest is the winner of the round. This game would be a great way of getting all the students involved and a good way of learning the order of operations. (Reference B)

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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?


Learning the order of operations is very important for the students to learn, especially for their future courses in mathematics or science. The order of operations is used is almost every mathematics course from then on and most of the science courses. That is why is it very important to understand how it works. You know that you will use them in math and science course, but also you will use the idea of order of operations in computer sciences courses. When programming, the code has to be in a specific order to work. Just like a math problem, if you don’t apply the operations in the correct order, then you won’t get the correct answer.


A. (2014, March 11). Retrieved September 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfgtWthLvk4

B. Order of Operations War With Just A Deck of Cards. (n.d.). Retrieved September 01, 2017, from http://us9.campaign-archive2.com/?u=3c5f5b9960a466398eccb35f8&id=cf58289e69&e=c87fd3cb28


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