Often, when I’m wondering how I might transform a dull, textbook task into something interesting for students, I look to the edges!
By that, I mean, what happens to this topic when we explore the outliers? When we look at the extremes? The smallest or the biggest possible version? Edge cases are great sources of complexity, intrigue, and fun.
Example Edge Cases
Outliers are naturally interesting.
What about a very short story?
I guarantee you your kids will be highly interested in the longest word in English.
Consider how much trickier it is to multiply by 0.00001 than by 0.1. To get a kid’s brain sweating a bit more, all you’ve done is make one number way smaller. Rather than 9 + 9, try adding 9999 + 99. Can’t do that in your head, right!? This is a key solving to the “should students show their work” argument.
Parts of Speech
When teaching parts of speech, I’d look for words that can be as many different parts of speech as possible. I’d write ridiculous paragraphs, packed with the same word over and over, used in different ways (care [verb or noun], careless, careful, carefully). All of the sudden, my advanced kids started to reveal some weaknesses in what seemed like easy content!
I care about careless kids who don’t give a care about how careful they are when skateboarding.
Now, if a student can correctly identify each part of speech, I’m convinced that they really know the topic.
Simple or Compound Sentences?
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 seventy–year–old lawnmower that was broken, rusty, and needed a paint job.
Yep, that’s simple, even though it’s not short.
Attack False Patterns
Notice that I’m purposefully attacking the false patterns 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-to-understand examples. So I develop examples that break those patterns. The edge case examples actually make students think!
The reason that these edge cases are so interesting is that they break away from the rather sterile “real world” problems that our textbooks often feature. In fact, I’d caution against trying the leverage the “real world” and, instead, let loose and get a bit ridiculous!
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