# Engaging students: Negative and zero exponents

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 again comes from my former student Austin DeLoach. His topic, from Algebra: negative and zero exponents. B1. How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

The topic of negative and zero exponents is very important when or if the students get to calculus. Although that will be several years down the line, having a solid fundamental grasp on the idea of negative and zero exponents will help them understand derivatives a lot better. Because derivatives of “simple” functions just multiply the coefficient by the exponent and then subtract one from the exponent, it is important for the students to have a good understanding of what negative and zero exponents are. If they do not understand already, they will be confused about why, for example, the derivative of 3x is just 3. It also greatly simplifies derivatives of things like 4/x2, as the students will simply be able to recognize that that is the same thing as 4x-2 and follow standard rules instead of needing to think about the quotient rule and waste time with that. It will also help them in the more near future when they work with simplifying expressions with the exponents written in different terms (i.e. with a positive exponent or with a negative exponent in the denominator), as it will help them recognize what simplifications mean the same thing. Explaining that understanding negative exponents will thoroughly help them in the future may be enough for some students to want to solidify their grasp on the topic.  