Engaging students: Powers and 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 comes from my former student Ashlyn Farley. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: powers and exponents.

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One class activity that will engage students while reviewing and/or teaching Exponent/Power concepts is “Marshmallow and Toothpicks.” This activity can be used for teaching the basic of exponents, as well as exponent laws. The idea is that the toothpicks are different colors, and the different colors represent different bases, thus the same color means it’s the same base. The marshmallows represent the exponent, i.e. the number of times the student needs to multiply the base. By following a worksheet of questions, the students should be able to solve exponent problems physically, visually, and abstractly. This activity, I believe, is best done with partners or groups so that the students can discuss how they think the exponents/exponent laws work. After the activity, the students are also able to eat their marshmallows, which encourages the students to participate and complete their work.

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Exponents are used in functions, equations, and expressions throughout math, thus having a deep understanding of exponents and their laws is very important. By fully mastering exponents and exponent laws, the students will be able to more easily grasp more difficult material that uses these concepts. Some specific ideas that use exponents and/or exponent laws in future math courses are: multiplying polynomials, finding the volume and surface area of prisms and cylinders, as well as computing the composition of two functions. Exponents are also used in many other situations than just math, such as in science or even in careers. Some careers that consistently use exponents and/or exponent laws are: Bankers, Computer Programmers, Mechanics, Plumbers, and many more.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

An easy way to introduce students who have never seen exponents or exponential growth before is to use a graphing calculator. By plugging in an exponential function into the calculator and viewing the graph and zooming out, students can easily see how quickly numbers start to get The website Legends of Learning focuses on creating educational games for students in kindergarten through 9th grade. One game that goes over exponents, as well as the exponent laws, is Expodyssey. This game has the students solve problems to “fix” a spaceship to get back to Earth. The problems are built upon each other, so it starts by having the student answer what an exponent is, then what multiplying two exponents same base is, and keeps building from there. Each concept has multiple problems to be solved before moving on so that the students can show their mastery of the content. I believe that this game also helps improve cognitive skills by having the students do various activities simultaneously, such as calculating, reading, maneuvering elements and/or filling answers as required.

References:
Blog: Number Dyslexia
Link: https://numberdyslexia.com/top-7-games-for-understanding-math-exponents/

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