Fun with Order of Operations

Order of OperationsAfter teaching fifth-grade math three times a day for several years I got pretty good at packing every
minute of my instructional time.  However, there were those day when I would finish a lesson, look up at the clock only to realized that I still had 10 minutes with these kids!!!  Sending them back to their homeroom wasn't an option, so I learned to find some quick and easy activities that I could bust out when my timing was off.

One activity that my students really enjoyed was an impromptu game of "Order of Operations Riddles." This essentially consisted of me having them write down 3 to 4 numbers on their white boards with plenty of space in-between them.  They would then grab 6-8 post-its and writing one of the following on each: +, -, ×÷, (, ), 2, 3 (the last two are exponents).  I would then write an answer on the board and they would have to scramble to arrange their post-its around the numbers on their white boards to make an equation that equaled the number on the board.

I would start off with a problem that just contained operations (+, -, ×, ÷), then add the parentheses, and finally the exponents.  When the exponents were added I would let them work in pairs because the activity would get really challenging at that point.

My students couldn't get enough of this!  They even made their own "riddles" to have their classmates solve.  I loved it because it removed the procedural aspect from Order of Operations and required students to really process the concepts beyond the "robotic" PEMDAS application.

If you would like to try this activity in your class, I made a version that you can download for free! I have included detailed instructions, 12 different riddles, and an answer key.  You can grab it {HERE}

If you're looking for more hands-on activities for Order of Operations, check out my Time to Tile: Order of Operations!


The Fish Bowl: A Cooperative Learning Strategy {Post 5 of 5}

Well this wraps up my 5-part series on some of my favorite cooperative learning activities I have used over the years.  If you missed the first 4, you can find them here: "Expert Groups," "Q and A Match-Up," "Four Corners,"and "Circle Chats."


The Fish Bowl: A Cooperative Learning Strategy

How It Works:

  1. Divide your class in half.  One half will form the center circle, facing inward. The other half of the class will form the outer circle, facing inward as well.
  2. The students in the inner circle will discuss a predetermined topic.
  3. The outside circle will be listening to the discussion,  making note of interesting, new, or contradictory information.  They are not allowed to say a word at this point.
  4. The inner and outer circles can then switch positions and repeat the steps above.

Why I Love It:

  1. Eases Discussion Management: Since only half the class is discussing at a time, this makes it much easier to manage than a whole-class discussion.  
  2. Promotes Active Listening: Half the students have the explicitly given job of listening to the inner circle.  They understand that their turn to talk will come, which is more likely to free their attention from trying to get a turn to share, and focus it on attentive listening.  
  3. Great for Debate: I love this arrangement for classroom debates.  The physical position of students makes it very clear when it's time to listen and when it's time to talk.  You can switch through the roles a number of times during debate, and students have more incentive to listen when they are in the outer circle so that they can appropriately counter the points made from the inner circle.
  4. Peer Evaluation and Modeling: This model presents a valuable opportunity for students to evaluate their peers.  Successful student presenters also serve as wonderful models to other students who are not as skilled at class discussions.
Alright! 5 strategies down!  I hope you find them useful.  I would also love to hear about ones you love, that I didn't include.

Four Corners: A Cooperative Learning Strategy (Post 4 of 5)

Four Corners: A Cooperative Learning Strategy


Thanks for checking out this post on using "Four Corners" as a cooperative learning activity in the classroom.  If you would like to view the other posts in this series of Cooperative Learning Strategies, you can find them here: "Expert Groups," "Q&A Match-Up," and "Circle Chats."


How It Works:

  1. Choose four aspects of a topic that your class is currently focusing on.
  2. Assign each of these aspects to a corner (or an area) of your room.
  3. Present the topic and the four related aspects to the whole group and give the students some "think time."
  4. Students can then choose a corner to discuss the topic.
  5. Representatives from each corner can share what their respective groups discussed.

Why I Love This:

  1. Student Choice:  Students LOVE when they are given an opportunity to choose.  They feel more empowered and respected, and thus take far more ownership over the outcome of the assignment.
  2. Various Perspectives: The students are exposed to many different view-points in their corner, which can lead to great discussion.
  3. Easily Prepared: This activity requires very little preparation on the teacher's part.  The teacher simply needs to think of four (+/-) areas that he/she would like the students to discuss and then send them on their way.
  4. Easy Implementation: This activity can take as little as five minutes and requires no advanced set-up (e.g. chairs set up, group formations, etc.), so teachers can use it instantaneously and then quickly return to the lesson.
If you're feeling like a lesson needs a quick boost of engagement, keep this strategy in mind!

Circle Chats: A Cooperative Learning Strategy {Post 3 of 5}

"Circle Chats," today's cooperative learning strategy, in another great way to get your students out of their seats and interacting! 


Circle Chats: A Cooperative Learning Strategy

How It Works:

  1. Divide your class in half.  One half will create an inner circle; the other half will make up the outer circle.
  2. Students in the outer circle can ask a question of the students in the inner circle.  These questions can be self-selected by the students or you can make your own question(s).
  3. After a set period of time, the teacher signals and the inner circle rotates and pairs-up with a new student.
  4. Once the group has completed a full rotation, the inside circle and the outside circle trade positions and repeat the steps above.

Why I Love This:

  1. Listening and Speaking Practice: This activity allows students to practice active speaking and listening skills.
  2. Active Engagement: Students are constantly moving and/or switching roles.  This variety keeps students engaged and on task.
  3. Safe/Comfortable: Talking one-on-one with each other is far less intimidating than talking to a small group or to the whole class.  This is a great activity to help build confidence in students who are reserved or afraid to speak in front of others (ELLs).
  4. Ownership:  One option for this activity is to have students create their own questions (which they LOVE doing).  They really take this task seriously and become quite invested in the process.
I have enjoyed sharing some of my favorite cooperative learning strategies with you.  In case you missed the first two posts, you can find them here: Expert Groups and Q and A Match-Up

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