Math is all about numbers, right? It sure seems like it. We learn about whole numbers, then we build in those pesky fractions. Don’t even get me started on negative numbers (they always have bad attitudes). But, wait. What in the world is algebra all about?
Ever heard this one? “I was good at math until they started using letters. You can’t do math with letters.”
Or “The equal sign means calculate and write the answer.”
What about “You do multiplication from left to right, and then division, and so on.”
Each of the above are misconceptions that stem from the initial expectation that mathematics is about calculating with numbers and we have to sit and wait to be told what to do. Math is just a collection of rules, right?
I hate to burst your bubble, but this can’t be further from the truth. Math is about structure and what results from that structure. It’s particularly important for students to understand this as they move into more advanced math where structure, rather than calculation, is the focus. We need to set students up for success right from the beginning. And that means understanding PEMDAS – not just memorizing it – beginning in elementary school.
If we look closely at the structure of mathematics, we can see the clever brilliance of PEMDAS.
Brandon Smith is the Lead Mathematician at MIND Research Institute. He is the resident expert on mathematics in the ST Math software and MathMINDs programming. A collegiate academic, he couldn't pass up the chance to work at MIND to help make math fun, engaging, and tantalizing.