Math Order Operation – A simple trick!

When children are learning any new concept, it’s a great idea to have them use something called Total Physical Response (TRP).  If you simply tell a child how to do a math problem, the likelihood of them fully understanding that concept is slim.  They will need to drill and drill for weeks and maybe even months before they become proficient.

Teachers have learned that children retain information much more quickly if they move their bodies in a manner that helps to reinforce the new concept.  This is called TPR or Total Physical Response, and it has children remembering concepts almost immediately!

Order of operation is confusing for children. Operations are what you do with numbers: adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, etc.  The confusing part is figuring out which goes first.

For Example:
3 (62 + 8) – 4 x 6
What is the proper order of operation for the problem above?

Parenthesis
Exponents
Multiplication
Division
Subtraction

There are two problems with PEMDAS

1 – Children struggle to remember what each letter stands for.
2 – Children think that multiplication comes before division, and that addition comes before subtraction.  That is not necessarily the case.

When you have both multiplication and division in an expression, like (42 / 6 x 4), or addition and subtraction in an expression, like (18 – 8 + 14), you must go left to right.  However, PEMDAS makes children think that they do the multiplication before the division and the addition before the subtraction.

Multiplication & Division
 This is wrong: This is the correct order of operation: 42 / 6 x 4 42 / 24 1.75 WRONG! 42 / 6 x 4 7 x 4 28 CORRECT!
 This is wrong: This is the correct order of operation: 18 – 8 + 14 18 – 22 -4 WRONG! 18 – 8 + 14 10 + 14 24 CORRECT

I use the TPR for teaching order of operation.

I will explain it, but the video below does a much better job.
This video shows a number of examples.  I have used this secret strategy for many years in my classes.  Kids love it, and it helps them learn.

I teach “Strongest to Weakest” and have children flex like a muscle-man.

Their arms are like the parenthesis.
The head is inside the parenthesis, so that goes first.
Next – Go from the strongest operation to the weakest operation.
Exponents are the strongest, so they go first.
Multiplication & division are next strongest, and they are equal in strength, so we go as we read – left to right.
Finally, addition & subtraction are the weakest.
However, they are also equal in strength, so we go as we read – left to right.

I hope you like my secret strategy of “Strongest to Weakest” for understanding Order of Operation.

Good luck my friends!

And –
If you’re looking for an educational fantasy game that your child can play on any device – check out TeachersDungeon.  I developed it according to Educational standards.  It comes with video tutorials created by myself and students who play the game.

Let me know if there is any way I can help!

Novels by McCoy –

I have written a number of books that are available on Amazon.  I have nonfiction books on mathematics that link to video tutorials and are designed to help children gain a deeper understanding of the math.  Here is a link to the first book in my series on fractions.  I have also written a chapter book and a young adult novel.  You can have a free preview by clicking on the links below.

MY ADVENTURES WITH CHICKENSPIKE – This is a chapter book that is perfect for children in 3rd and 4th grades.  My Adventures with ChickenSpike is a Children’s Fantasy Book.  The main character is a young boy who is being bullied.  He travels to a distant planet and finds his inner strength.  By the time he returns home not only is he no longer a victim, he is a hero!

RED – This is a young adult novel that is especially designed for children in 5th and 6th grades.  Red is an action packed adventure with two main characters and a number of supporting characters that add humor and drama to this novel.  Bruno Vic and Evelyn Rose attend Sir Francis Drake Middle School.  Bruno is big, street-wise, and tough, but he also has high morals and undying loyalty to his friends.  Evelyn Rose was born rich, but an unfortunate turn of events has landed her in the heart of the Tenderloin District of San Francisco.  Bruno, Evelyn, and their friends are desperate to steer clear of the gangs, so the turn to a mysterious man that the gangs seem to fear.  His name is Red.

Until next time…
Have a great day – Brian McCoy

1. Eddie says:

This blog will help kids or parents understand the way how to do pemdas, and the order of operations. So in my opinion this blog is great.

2. Shayli says:

This is a geat idea to help kids that need help with their math

3. Samantha says:

I liked the part were you talked about the PEDMAS because i sometimes forget what it means but now it makes more sense. I also sometimes have trouble doing the math but now I understand a little more how to do the math.

1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Samantha.
Have a fantastic day!

4. Camila says:

I like the part about PEMDAS because i forget what order to do first.

1. Hi Camila –
Have a fantastic day!

5. JO says:

That’s really easy! And, as it says in the title: “it’s a simple trick”.

1. Hi JO –
Thanks so much for the comment.
Have a great day!

6. Alexander says:

I am glad for this blog because sometimes I mess up with pemdas and do either multiplication before devision or addation before subtraction so this really helps!!!

1. Hi Alexander –
Cool – I hope my strategy helps!
Have a fantastic day!

7. JO says:

Its really smart that you are using strongest to weakest instead of PENDAS.

1. Hey JO –
Yes – as a matter of fact, I had a 6th grade student make the addition before subtraction mistake (the one that I explain in the video) today in class. It was very timely for me, because I had recently posted this very article.
Thanks again & have a super day!

8. Naima says:

One more thing, I love your game, The Teachers’ Dungeon.

9. Naima says:

I like the part about PEMDAS, because I forget about that and now I remember it.
Thanks for showing me “Strongest to Weakest”.

10. Sara says:

This is great!!!
Its important to remember when you get to the point in addition and subtraction to read from left to right, and your strategy really makes that clear.

1. Hi Sara –
I’m glad to hear that you like my strategy.
Thanks for sharing.
Have a great day!

11. Randal says:

I love the “Strongest to Weakest” because I always forget what PEMDAS means.

1. Hi Randal –
Yes – you are not the first person to tell me that.
Thanks for sharing.
Have as great day!

12. 2-D says:

Never knew that PEMDAS was misleading.

Guess that was one of the reasons why I screwed up on a test before, so thanks for the clarification.

1. Hi 2-D
Yes – if you follow ALL of the directions that go with PEMDAS, it does say to go left to right for multiplication and division and addition and subtraction. However, most people forget that part. I have even seen teacher who forget that critical part.
When I teach Strangest to Weakest – kids get it, because multiplication and division and addition and subtraction are equal in strength, so they remember to go left to right.
Thanks for sharing.
Have a great day!

13. Fredo says:

I just used your “Strongest to Weakest”. It helped me a lot.
Thanks!

1. Hey Fredo –
That’s great! Thanks for letting me know.
Have a fantastic day!

14. Jeremy says:

You are so right with what you said about PEMDAS.
I like your method of “strongest to weakest” better. It is awesome!

1. Hi Jeremy –