LearnBop Community Blog

Cool Math In Real Life - Parentheses, Brackets, and Braces

Posted by Kate Chesnutt

Feb 24, 2015 6:00:00 AM

At LearnBop we know that sometimes taking math concepts from the page to the real world is hard. Students often ask, “When will I ever use this in ‘real life?’” We want to help students stay interested and engaged in math. That is why we have started this weekly series that outlines how problems or patterns emerge “in real life.” In our first edition we will go over CCSSM 5.OA.A.1, covering parentheses, bracket, and braces.


Common Core Math Standard—CCSSM 5.OA.A.1

Use parentheses, brackets, or braces in numerical expressions, and evaluate expressions with these symbols.

Parentheses, brackets, and braces in real life are everywhere. If you want to group items together you can use these symbols. Basically, you start with the innermost group of parentheses and work your way outward. The markers just provide a way to say, “Do this item first.”

Where Do You See Orders of Operations? 

Have you ever seen the Russian nesting dolls called matryoshka? They have a big doll on the outside and when you open it they have a smaller doll inside.You have to open the biggest doll first then work your way inside until you get to the smallest doll.

Order is everywhere and helps us find and sort things. Think about your school binder, where you have a section for each subject. Within each subject you might have subsections called “Math Notes” and “Homework.” Organizing thoughts and items helps us sort and find things. The same is true with numbers, and with the operations we do with numbers. In mathematics, we do the same organization you might do in a binder through the use of parentheses, brackets, and braces.

What it Looks Like in Math

operations-1Let’s go back to the example of Russian nesting dolls. To take apart the dolls you work from the outside in. Parentheses, brackets, and braces work in reverse. You start with the inside and work your way out.

Real Life Example

Let’s say a parent volunteers to bring snacks for the class. The parent has said they will bring snacks four times a year for the class. Each class has thirteen students and one teacher. But one day six students will be on vacation. Another parent hears of the plan and says they will bring half of the snacks.

Breaking it Down

Change the words to numbers and group items. Start with the number of people in a class and work your way to the outside.

It makes sense because the teacher and students represent 1 class so you group them together. Each class has 13 students and 1 teacher. This could be represented as:


They will do this 4 times during the year and one of those days there will be 6 fewer students.

[4(13 + 1) - 6]

But graciousy another parent volunteers to bring half of them.

½ [4(13 + 1) - 6]

which is equal to 25!

Coding - Order of Operations in Computers

In coding we also see nesting come into play. Have you wanted to create a website or an app for a phone? You would have to learn how to code and tell the computer which item to do first, which to do second, and so on.  And you would do that by writing a code that looks like this:


Each item such as color or style must have a beginning and end. They have two parts - an opening and closing tag that group the item. Parentheses, brackets, and braces all have an opening and closing that help organize the information.

It is a pretty cool thing when you see how it works--that is, when you see that a carefully written code actually translates into images, text, and interactive features like what you might use in SnapChat or Instagram. That code looks like this in real life!


Let your students see nested tags and give coding a try by clicking on the W3 Schools link here or in the resouces below. If they are interested in coding further they can take advantage of the free resources provided through Code Academy.

Resources For The Classroom

Try Nesting in Code

Code Academy - Learn to Code

Boston University Nesting Explaination


Topics: Implementing the Common Core, Resources, Teaching & Learning, Algebra & Algebra Readiness

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