Negative and zero exponents can seem very intimidating at first, but there are lessons you can use to engage students and make learning fun. The easiest way to teach this is to teach the basics of exponents, introduce zero and negative exponents, and then turn it into a game. Games are fun and kids tend to learn best when they truly enjoy what they are learning.
Teaching Exponents with Cards
You'll need two decks of playing cards for this game. You can separate the class into teams of two to three. All teams should be close enough to you to be able to see the cards. All of the number cards will simply stand for the number on the cards. For example, the eight of hearts will stand for the number eight. Aces will stand for zero and your face cards will represent the number 10. Randomly pull two cards from the deck. The first card you pull out will be the base number. The second card that you pull out will be the exponent. Each team should use pencil and paper to work out the answer. The first team to get the right answer will win a point. You can choose how many rounds you want to play, but it's a good idea to do at least 10 to 15 so all teams have a shot at winning.
Everyone knows bingo. Buy or make blank bingo boards so you can make sure the numbers match up with the answers to your exponent questions. Create 50 different exponent math problems that your students will need to solve in order to get the bingo numbers. To play the game, all students should have a bingo board and a marker to mark off the numbers they have. Write a problem on the board; they can either solve it as a class or you can go around individually. Once the answer is given, this is the number they will mark off on their bingo boards if they have it. The student that has a complete bingo board first will win the game.
For Exponent Jeopardy, separate your class into three teams so they can all work together. There will be three categories in this game: Equations with Exponents, Evaluating Exponents, and Exponents with Fractional Bases. Each of these categories will have four levels: $100, $200, $300 and $400, and the questions should increase in difficulty with each level. You simply put questions on cards and then, on the opposite side, put the dollar amount. One team will choose a card and then the teams will work out the problem and write down their answer. Whoever gets the answer right gets awarded the money value on the card. This works just like the game show "Jeopardy" but just with zero and negative exponents.
To prepare for an exponent-based game of Memory, make a variety of cards and half will have negative and zero exponents and the other half will have base numbers. The students can work in teams or alone and they will choose five base cards and five exponent cards. Each team, or individual student, will work out the problems by combining a base with an exponent and then working out the answer. You can do a few rounds of this and the one with the most points wins.
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