It is crucial that children memorize order of operations. They will need to use them throughout sixth grade and beyond. It is imperative that children follow these rules every time he/she solves and expression with more than one operation. Often times, the order of operations are taught using the phrase, “please excuse my dear aunt sally”, where the p stands for parentheses, e = exponents, m = multiply, d = divide, a = add, and s = subtract. The problem with this teaching strategy is that it does not teach students to move from the left side of the problem to the right using multiply and divide are interchangeably, as well as add and subtract. So, if solving a problem such as 8/4 x 2. Many students will multiply first, when he/she really needs to divide. A more appropriate way to teach would be to use a chant with hand movements to aid in memorization. Here’s an example (the words in italics are chanted aloud, the regular type is an example of the concept and bolded words are hand signals):
(2+4), [(3 x 4) + 5 ]
Child holds up both hands in a “c” shape to represent parentheses
Child holds up two fingers with hand above head to show exponents (ex. a number squared)
“Mulitply or divide, divide or multiply left to right”
3x4†2 or 8/4•5
Child crosses arms in an X shape for multiply, uses the left arm to show the division slash / and points from left to right.
“Add or subtract, subtract or add, left to right”
2 + 4 – 6 or 9 - 6 + 11
Child crosses arms in a + shape for add, uses right arm to show a minus sign – and points left to right.