Day 1 of school … do all the administrative ~~crap~~ stuff and with what remaining time left in the class, do math, well. Mathalicious! In my Algebra 2/Trig class I decided to start off the year with the Mathalicious’ PEMDASurvior lesson. In the remaining time after reading the Student Handbook pages xx-xx (specified by period), going over syllabus and supplies, and taking roll, the class began working on the lesson.

To preview, we looked at the calculator problems and tried to answer without using calculators. This was a great reminder/review that the TI calculators “know” order of operations. In one (of three) class it lead to a discussion that not all calculators, especially the four-function and scientific, have this capability so students need to understand their tools. In every class I managed to stumble into the wrong answer of 24 for “8+4*2” first by randomly calling on a student. I did not say it was wrong, rather I asked if anyone had a different answer, which I had also done for the previous problems with no challenges. That problem our reminder of order of operations and the first student usually wanted to change their answer. When I asked their reasoning for changing their answer, they referred to forgetting to use PEMDAS in every case.

I then had students work on Acts 1 and 2 in their groups. I used this activity as an opportunity to get students to start talking to each other about math, something the higher level students I have are not used to doing. I did not intervene except to clarify directions and I spent most of the time listening to groups discuss (and praising them for it) or prodding the silent ones to talk. I found out that talking in a math class and talking about math is very uncomfortable for many; something we will have to continue to work on! We came back together as a class after about 15 minutes and went over the answers to the right/wrong calculations. Students generally did well with using the order of operations, but struggled a bit when they were expected to work left to right, regardless of the operations presented. Students worked on the rest of the worksheet at their own pace, most finished but some did not.

The highlight of the activity is the *Survivor* video clip. I didn’t find if very funny but every class was laughing at the inability of one of the contestants to get across the balance beam. In two classes I paused the video before it was done to have the students work the final problem. I did have to read the operations to them as most were so focused on the video that they forgot to scribe the operations. I turned this into a contest for the first with the correct answer. I had some questions about whether they should use PEMDAS (what have we been studying?) which was a great review of calculating with fractions. Only a handful in each class got the correct solution using ordering of operations. The prize was a composition book, a required supply for class. After 5 minutes of telling students “that is not correct” we watched the rest of the video. The best response was from one of my freshman “Since I did it the right way (using order of operation), I just lost a million dollars?”

For me, looking at the students’ response to whether PEMDAS is a good way to remember order of operations was the most enlightening aspect. Quite a few students proposed “GEMS” … Grouping, Exponents, Multiplication, Subtraction. I had never heard this acronym and found it interesting. I shared it with my colleagues which sparked discussion about Division and Addition missing and will students be confused if we change to GEMS when they have heard PEMDAS for the past few years. I also made sure I gave some feedback to every student to get them to realize that I am going to read what they write.

I liked starting my school year off with Mathalicious. It made planning for the first day painless and the activities were structured such that if I had 20 minutes or 90 minutes, this activity was still do-able. Even though the lesson is geared towards 6th/7th grade, it was a great way to ease into math for a more advanced class and sparked great discussions.