Teaching Order of Operations

Today we tried something different for teaching Order of Operations and it was GOOD.

Here’s the set up:

We made 8 1/2×11 laminated number cards, two sets of 0 through 9, as well as operator cards, two sets of +, -, *, division symbol, ( and ). Then I was going to have the kids use scratch paper, which will work just fine, but decided at the last minute to use the mini-whiteboards (and the standing white boards ~ more on these later). I think that was a good choice. The kids really love them and it adds an element of engagement. Do you have those? They’re not that expensive anymore and well worth the investment. That’s it on supplies.

Then I started by doing a quick review/overview of Order of Operations. These are 6th graders and they had seen this math in 5th grade. Then I explained that we would be using people to make the equations. I started handing kids symbols and numbers and placed about 9 of them in a line across the front of the room. I started out with an easy equation. We all wrote it down on our whiteboards, the participants kept their cards and went back to their seats to write it down, too. Then we all took a minute to solve the equation.

We do whiteboard work a lot in my class so we have a protocol of comparing answers to each other and talking about it. I’ve taught them to say, “I respectfully disagree,” as their opening line to a question to each other. And then to follow that with a question or suggestion. So far, it’s working pretty well, even though it sounds sort of cheesy. In this case we held up our boards, looked at each others and talked about what the answer should be and why. This allowed me to see who might need help on the next equation.

Then we either handed back the cards and started a new equation OR I had them line up again and asked how we could change the equation to make a bigger (or smaller) answer. This was Aaron’s idea and it was brilliant. They kids were really interested and it was fun/funny for them to move each other around. If we made a new equation, we did the same drill….write it down, solve it and compare.

If we started a new equation, after that first time I asked two kids to be the leaders and create and equation. I usually gave them a few parameters, such as “use subtraction and parentheses” to help them get started. And I would send them kids to use in setting up the equation so that their mental energy didn’t get sucked into “choosing” kids.

This was FUN!

And yesterday was a special day at my school. The district administration had all gathered at our building for a professional development afternoon around equity. We had been warned that people might observe and today was my “lucky” day. During 5th period, which is, of course, my class with the most struggling students, I had 4 different teams for 6-7 people rotate through my class in 10 minute intervals. One of my kids said, “I feel like I’m in the zoo!” Pretty funny. Except that it was the superintendent, assistant superintendents, area directors, principals, my building admins, and so on. And they say that they’re not observing you, but what they really mean is that they’re not writing it up. Because they are so totally observing you. And I know so many of them now after having been in the district for 12 years. They were totally checking out me, my class, my relationship with the kids, my teaching, etc. while also observing behaviors around racial equity, too.

Luckily, this lesson really knocked it out of the park. Thank you Aaron, again. This is the kind of teaching day that reminds me how much fun I get to have at work every day, even with all those people watching us.

Try it. Have fun!

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