I’m always looking for ways to add complexity when planning a lesson. Almost by its very definition, complexity requires a situation with no clearly correct path to success. The math website Which One Doesn’t Belong? has been an inspiration for a certain type of task along these lines.
Lean Into Ambiguity
When we ask kids “which one doesn’t fit in,” our cleverest students love to find ways to pick the non-obvious answer. So why not use this as a framework for pushing students deeper into our content.
Rather than giving students four choices where one is right, give four choices where none are right and (of course) none are wrong. This moves students’ focus from “am I right” to “let me explain my answer!” And I’m always more interested in thinking rather than remembering the right answer.
Here are a few ideas I’ve had while developing tasks around this framework.
Take Away The Obvious Answer
What if I asked, “Which country is not like the others?” and gave these choices:
- South Korea
By picking three, closely-related Asian countries, and then one country from across the globe, I’ve created such an obvious outlier that it robs students of the chance to really think. It’s like a bright light shining in my face! We can’t see past Guatemala’s distance from the other three.
Instead, consider which of these countries is not like the others:
- The United States
By removing the obvious answer, we immediately start thinking differently. Perhaps it’s England, because all of the other countries were once under the British Crown. Or maybe it’s Australia because it’s the only one in the southern hemisphere. Is it Canada, because it’s the only country with an officially French-speaking region?
You’ll see students start looking each country up, digging for a fact that will separate each one.
I think this is a beautiful example of aiming for interesting, not merely challenging.
Call Out The Kind of Answers You Don’t Want
Now, I don’t want kids to give annoyingly surface-level answers, so I simply call those out as non-examples. “No, we’re not going to say “The United States doesn’t fit because its name has three words. That’s surface level. I want interesting information about the country.”
I don’t really like reasons that are just “biggest” or “smallest” (most populous, least landmass, greatest GDP, etc), since those are not really unique to the country. So I’d want kids to phrase their answers as “Country X is the only one in this group that…”
Encourage Multiple Reasons
Eventually, students will push this task from “find the one difference” to “think of as many ways as possible that each one of these choices is different from the other three!” Can they find two reasons for each country? Three!?
Definitely encourage your students as they start uncovering multiple reasons for each option. Now, they don’t have to force it! Some options may have five reasons and some may have just one. That’s fine! We want students to be flexible in their thinking.
All Kinds Of Content
You can set these types of tasks up across all disciplines. You could use four:
- types of animals
- characters from a novel
- stories from one author
- pieces of art
- battles from The American Civil War
- elements from the period table
If you’re working with math, you’re going to love Which One Doesn’t Belong?
Over at Byrdseed.TV, I’m building out ideas across other disciplines with some extra help from my friend Mike Saltz.