When I’m wondering how I might transform a dull, textbook task into something interesting for students, **I look to the edges!**

I ask, what happens to this topic when we explore the outliers? When we see the extremes? What is the smallest or the biggest or longest or shortest possible version of this topic?

Edge cases are great sources of complexity, intrigue, and, yes, fun!

### Our Brains *Love* the Weird (and Ignore the Ordinary)

Humans simply **cannot ignore the unusual and unexpected**. We are wired to spot things that stand out. It’s obvious why! Out in the wild, it’s that unexpected sound, that strange shadow, that unusual movement which present the biggest threat to us. Our attention is *naturally* drawn to the unusual.

Which question makes you more curious?

- What is the average height of a human today?
- What is the height of the
*tallest person who ever lived!?*

Can you resist clicking to learn what the longest English word is?

**Which of these flags grabs your attention** and gets you wondering?

The unexpected is interesting! And *interesting* is my goal! So, as we plan lessons, **let’s push our examples and our questions** out to the extremes. Let’s avoid the mundane.

### Getting Ridiculous in Math

**Are you calculating area?** Don’t find the area of something boring like a desk. Please don’t ask students how much wallpaper they’ll need for a room (yawn). Yes these are “real world” applicationsâ€¦ **but they’re as boring as heck.**

Seriously. Calculating *wallpaper?* (I joke because it was always in our math book. Wallpaper and paint!)

Instead, **find the area of something ridiculous!**

- Figure out how many students you could cram onto your playground.
- How many monster trucks could park in your school’s parking lot?
- How would you need to rearrange the seats of an airplane to accommodate a bunch of Shaq-sized humans â€“ or a bunch of kindergarteners?

When we leverage math as a tool to answer ridiculous questions, **we’re suddenly skating downhill**. It’s actually interesting!

**Doing calculations?** Pick bigger, smaller, or just plain weirder numbers.

- Consider how much trickier it is to multiply by 0.00001 than it is to multiply by 0.1. To get a kid’s brain sweating, all we’ve done is make one number
*way way way*smaller. - Rather than 9 + 9, try adding 9999 + 99. Hard to do
*that*in your head, right?! (This was one of my keys to defeating the “show work in math” problem – just give students*weirder*numbers.) - Weird numbers are also a great way to pre-assess, too. Ask for just a few ridiculous calculations and you’ll know who’s
*really*ready to move on.

**Don’t ask for the next step in a pattern.** Ask for the 12th, 19th, or 43rd step. One that’s so far out that it forces kids to really, really, really think. When they found out they got it right, there will be much celebrating!

If you’re writing a fraction problem, ** PLEASE don’t make it about pizza!** No one asks how many thirds of a pizza are left. But if your question

*has*to be about a pizza, then

**make that pizza unbelievably huge**. Make it the size of a football stadium. Or have Tiny Tim eat just 2/999 of the pizza. Ask students to grapple with a fraction

*in a fraction!*What would

^{1/2}/

_{2}of a pizza look like?

**Math can answer utterly ridiculous questions** like, “How much pasta could you cook in an olympic-sized pool?” or “How long would it take to mow Central Park with a push mower?”

### Language Arts

Rather than pushing students to write 500-word stories, we’d write very very *very* short stories. I’d ask them to rewrite sentences or paragraphs without using a particular letter. These ridiculous constraints draw students in. Students ask if they can write *more*. They start creating new, weirder constraints. It’s so fun.

Get ridiculous by asking students to think from particular perspectives. What does a chair think about school compared to a desk?

#### Ridiculous Examples Expose Misunderstandings

When teaching **parts of speech**, I’d look for words that could be used as many different parts of speech. Which option do you think intrigued my students more?

Mark the part of speech for each word in bold:

- I
careabout kids.- I
careaboutcarelesskids who don’t give acareabout howcarefulthey are when they skateboard in acarefreeway.

Not only is Option Two much more interesting, **it actually gives me useful information about my students**! It breaks the endless streak of 100%s. It reveals weaknesses hidden by the typical examples. If a student can correctly identify each part of speech in Option Two, I’m convinced that they *really* know the topic. Plus, I’d always have students who started **making their own wacky parts of speech sentences**.

Likewise, when identifying **simple vs compound sentences**, I’d try to create ridiculously long simple sentences.

Is this a simple or compound sentence?I borrowed a seventyâ€“yearâ€“old lawnmower from cousin Jane that was broken, rusty, and needed a paint job like I needed a good night’s rest.

Yep, that’s a simple sentence even though it’s not short. I’d catch more kids making mistakes and I’d also inspire students to explore how long *they* could make a simple sentence.

### Uncovering False Patterns

Notice that I’m purposefully **attacking the false patterns** my students have developed. With simple vs compound sentences, I noticed that my kids believed that “simple sentences are always shorter than compound sentences” or “compound sentences are the ones with a conjunction”.

These false patterns emerge when students are only given easy examples. So develop examples that break those patterns. **The edge case examples actually make students think!**

### Ridiculous Is Fun

Answering ridiculous questions or writing under a weird restriction unleashes students’ creativity. It empowers them to make their own choices. Often, students will become inspired to *do more* just because it’s interesting. (“Mr. Byrd, last night I wrote a Lipogram but this time with only *one* vowelâ€¦”)

And, gosh, it’s so much fun as a teacher to see student work that surprises me.