I was talking to a group of students this week at NSE. One of the students was talking about how hard it was to understand exponents in math. I asked her when she might need to use exponents in real life. She went on to say that, "...all you all really want is the right answer, right? You give us the problem or question and we have to give you the answer." I tried to save the day and say, "No! We want you to be able to use what you learn to solve bigger problems." Fortunately, it was time to start the morning news show and I was off the hook!
Interestingly enough, I recently read an article by Gisele Huff, Executive Director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation. The article is titled Project Based Learning Needs More Learning. In the article, Huff states that, "At some level, doing must be based on knowing." This made me think about my conversation with the student earlier this week. She is not going to get how and why exponents are important unless they have a purpose. How are exponents going to help her as a 10 year old solve a real world problem that is important to her.
So, when are exponents important to a 10 year old? Solving exponents to complete a worksheet or set of problems in a math workbook is showing your knowledge. Using exponents to draw and build a diagram of your dream bedroom with a budget attached to present to your parents is project based learning. As this student goes through her educational career and future career, she will have had an experience that will allow her to better know what exponents are, why they are important, and how they are used in real life. Experiences like the one mentioned above should be part of the culture of every classroom.
One of the components of AdvancED's Effective Learning Environment Observation Tool (ELEOT) is "creating a supportive learning environment." In order to create a supportive learning environment, teachers must "provide support and assistance for students to understand content and accomplish tasks." Some content is very difficult to learn without being able to connect the content to a real world problem that is important to the learner. Knowledge connected to a Project Based Learning project done well can help make this happen.