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Fun Activities for Teaching Order of Operations

Order of operations is one of those math topics that tests student understanding year after year in school. And it even makes a regular appearance on social media! We've all seen versions of that viral PEMDAS problem going around that makes us all lose our minds:

In this problem, we'd follow the rules of order of operations to simplify to:

100 ÷ 4 (5)

25(5)

125

125 is the correct answer in this example. But what about people who swear the expression simplifies to 5? Are they wrong? This is a common mistake. One of the reasons this problem causes so many arguments online is because of the division symbol. The problem is sometimes interpreted to mean:

In this case, we'd get:

100 / [4(5)]

100 / 20

5

Another reason this PEMDAS problem causes kids and adults alike to argue (I actually had to ban PEMDAS problems from my Facebook group because they always causes arguments!) is because of the 4(2 + 3). It's almost instinct to distribute that 4 into the parenthesis. But if we did this, we'd be ignoring the order of operations rules.

This, coupled with the belief that the ÷ symbol may have evolved from a fraction with dots for the numerator and denominator, make us really want to put that 4(2 + 3) in the denominator and multiply first. But as the original order of operations problem stands, 100 ÷ 4(2 + 3) = 125.

It's always fun reading the comments section when these problems come up on Facebook. Well, maybe fun and frustrating!

In this post, I also want to share a few fun order of operations activities for your students. Whether you're introducing the concept of the order of operations or are looking to reinforce student understanding through additional practice problems, the activities in this post have you covered.

Order of Operations Activities

 Order of operations digital math escape room

1: Order of operations digital math escape room activity: This escape room's answer-validated Google Form requires students to correctly enter each puzzle's code before moving on to the next puzzle. Questions are grouped 4 per puzzle, resulting in five 4-letter codes that will unlock all 5 locks. You can see more digital math escape rooms here.

 Order of operations mobile

2: Order of operations mobile: This interactive order of operations reference shows how addition/subtraction and multiplication/division can switch as we read math expressions left to right. You have a choice of making either a PEMDAS, GEMDAS, GEMS, BIMDAS or BEMDAS mobile, depending on the needs of your students. This mobile is part of my blog's free math resource library found here.

Here is a photo of Ms. Williams's order of operations mobile colored by a student.

 "2 truths and a lie" order of operations error analysis activity

3: "2 truths and a lie" order of operations math error analysis activity: This error analysis activity will make your students really think about the order of operations. Students identify incorrect statements when presented with solved order of operations problems. Students are then asked to fix each error on their answer sheet.

 Order of operations math pennant activity

4: Order of operations math pennant activity: Students review the order of operations in this math pennant activity. Some pennants have more difficult PEMDAS problems than others, allowing you to easily differentiate the activity for your students. Once a pennant is complete, it can be displayed in your classroom to show the world that, "Hey, we know the order of operations!"

Here is a photo of Ms. Barnum's order of operations pennants arranged into a sunflower on her math classroom's whiteboard.

More posts:

Math Word Walls

Digital Math Escape Rooms

Fun Activities for Teaching Integers

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