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Fun Games for Teaching the Order of Operations

written by: Deidra Alexander • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 8/2/2012

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally because she's always out of order but she can really be a hoot. Early on in their educational careers, students learn to fear and at the same time detest this part of math. Take away the anxiety, disgust and anger with some fun order of operations games.

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    Have you ever gotten your hands on the top-secret recipe for your favorite dish? Did you harbor hopes of replicating the most delicious version of it you have ever tasted as served only at the diner down the street? After spending time cooking it and serving it you sit down for a heaping helping hoping to find bliss. Instead you quickly realize that bliss is a place far, far away from your kitchen as you sink your teeth into hell’s lunch special. Somewhere along the line, you failed to input the ingredients in the proper order to get the replication you were going for. Following the proper order of operations is a cardinal rule in cooking, especially in baking since one false step can spell disaster.

    This same concept is applicable when working with multiple types of operations in math. Adding before multiplying will give you the wrong answer every time. A set of fun order of operations games will give students opportunities to practice the proper order for greater understanding and ease of use.

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    Deal or No Deal

    Little explanation is needed for this game but here’s a brief one.

    To set up you will need containers or a grid of cards for students to choose from as they would on the show, which uses a grid of cases. As each contestant takes a turn he/she will have to find the correct answer based on the information found in the case (container or card from the grid).

    If the class is small, (10 students or less) the game should move fast within one class period with everyone getting a turn. In classes that are larger, put the students on teams for collaboration before sending their team player up to the front to take the turn.

    The TV version of the game would be less than desirable if it were not for the cash winnings. You will not need cash to play this game for math learning but you will need something to get students going. Attach a simple prize the kids actually want to win for each correct answer or as a set of correct answers (this will make them try harder if they have to work longer to get something). Candy always works well for incentives as it is cheap, and what kid doesn’t like candy? If candy is a no-no, go for alternative treats that are just as good but healthier like granola snacks.

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    Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

    Millionaire, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

    This game is useful in numerous ways and is easily modifiable for instructional game play in several core content areas for school, but it gets used most often in math. When you think about it, working with order of operations is not that exciting since it is a routine construct. Straying from the code causes chaos so by nature it is very rudimentary. However, when you add lights, music and color you have math magic.

    Viewers of the game show know that progressive dollar amounts are given for which multiple-choice questions are to be answered. There is nothing different about this in the classroom version except there are no cash prizes and students play on teams. Choose the first level of the pyramid to view the expression and quickly (under 100 seconds) select the right choice.

    Right or wrong players get to progress all the way to the $1,000,000 point with their final score tallied at the end for a pass or fail. Just like on TV, the same options are available for stumped players to protect scores.

    Math-Play.com offers a totally cool version for your class with all of the excitement.

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    Create Posters

    Learning by creating is another fun approach to teaching and reinforcing PEMDAS. If you need more advice for working with dear Aunt Sally, have your students make order of operations posters. Read Create an Order of Operations Math Poster Activity from Bright Hub Education.

    Remember, always make math fun and your students will be operating in math like a pro with the best scores at their school.