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01-Aug-2017 11:50

A few weeks ago, I had someone ask me what superpower I would love to have. I am terrible at getting students to see that most of their prior knowledge of exponent rules is wrong.I started out by pairing the students up and having them match the exponent rule question cards with the exponent rule answer cards.After checking their answers, I had them switch decks and repeat.Because as soon as I start reteaching something that they have heard before, their minds shut down and start ignoring me. They think that a negative exponent means that you need to change the fraction to its reciprocal to make the exponents positive. And, don't even get me started on the order of operations.

In an addition problem, the arrow points to nothing, so we do nothing to the exponents. I've emphasized this word so much this year, my eighth graders found it necessary to correct their science teacher for not referring to the vinculum by its proper name when learning about the density equation. But, I do think it goes to show my students that they shouldn't be scared by new vocab words just because they sound scary.

After a week of exploring and discovering each rule separately, I challenged my students to look at a problem and figure out which rule they were supposed to use. They could do each rule in isolation, but they couldn't figure out what rule to use in a given problem.

I probably ended up spending two weeks on exponent rules, and I still had a group of students who just didn't get it. Day 1 - We played a game that I found on Nathan Kraft's blog.

Without telling the students what we were doing, I told them all to go write their name on the dry erase board and draw four x's below. They held up their individual dry erase boards with their answers. When a student ran out of x's, that student became a zombie.

First hour, one of my students raises their hand and asks, "Couldn't we have just written x to the fourth power below our names? I guess my continual emphasis that x squared means x times x and x cubed means x times x times x has paid off! The students who got it right got to go and erase an x from under someone's name. Zombies could still take others out if they continued to get the problems right. Day 2 - The students wanted to know if we were going to play the game again.

It sparked so many amazing conversations that wouldn't have happened otherwise. And, I explained it to my students like this: The arrow tells us what to do to the exponent rules.

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