Engaging students: Solving exponential equations

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Isis Flores. Her topic, from Precalculus: solving exponential equations.

green line

How could you as a teacher create and activity or project that involves your topic?

For students who have not seen exponential functions before the overall concept might be difficult to comprehend if there is not concrete example that they get to experience. In a mathematics exploration course, TNTX 3100, there was a unique and concrete experience which aided in grasping the concept of exponential functions. I believe that pre-calculus students would benefit just as much if not more from doing a similar activity. The activity itself is to model radioactive decay with m&m’s. Students would be given a set number of m&m’s in a cup. Students would then shake the cup and turn the contents out onto a plate. Those m&m’s with the “m” side up get to be eaten and the number record along with how many times the cup has been turned over (this represents years). Students will continue this pattern until they are out of m&m’s. Students will then take their recorded data and plot it in order to further analyze what is happening and try to come up with a mathematical model for the data. This activity is great in the sense that it involves something concrete, and edible, but also because students get to experiment and a bit of science is included in the process. To shake things up students should be in groups and each group should get to run the experiment at least twice. At the end of the unit it would be a neat idea to ask students to come up with their own representation of exponential functions and maybe try a few of them out as a class.



green lineHow can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

After students go through pre-calculus they might take courses which will require them to have some base knowledge of exponential functions. In calculus students will need said base knowledge in order to comprehend what occurs when taking derivatives of exponential functions. Students will also be exposed to “e” and having an understanding of exponential functions will aid them in comprehending what the mathematical definition of “e” is and to recognize its form. Students will also use exponential functions when analyzing interest rates and investments, which is something they may need when they at a later stage in their life (i.e. planning for retirement or calculating college loans). In science students will explore radioactive decay, half-life, and even capacitor discharge all of which will require them to have a good grasp on exponential functions. If students truly understand exponential functions not only will they be able to solve problems presented to them in their science courses, but it will give them an advantage towards actually comprehending what is happening and being able to visualize it, as in the case with capacitor discharge. Such comprehension which goes beyond computations ensures that students are truly learning, and not just mindlessly memorizing steps or formulas.


green line

How has this topic appeared on the news?

A topic which has been on the news radar for a period of time is population growth, which behaves exponentially. It would be quite interesting to perhaps introduce the topic of exponential functions with a news article which speaks about the increase population growth, (see nytimes.com link under references) and have students attempt to model said growth. A more exciting news link, at least from a student perspective, was the Red Bull Stratos Jump. The jump was performed form 128,000 feet and was to be sort of an advertisement for the energy drink, Red Bull (which has the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings). Students can explore the exponential decay of atmospheric pressure vs. altitude and have a short clip of the jump be the engage for the lesson. This news topic will definitely interest students since it is not something that occurs a lot, and a few of them might have actually watched the live jump.



TNTX 3100 course






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.