Rotonda West & Capturing Curiosity

Two anecdotes about curiosity, followed by a challenge:

1. Nana’s Lemon Water

I facilitated a workshop in Atlanta a few weeks ago and a participant had one of these enormous Thirstbuster mugs. I asked, somewhat nervously, “Whatcha got in there?” She replied “water with lemon.”

I wondered, as I’m sure others might, “Well how much lemon would you need in that enormous thing to even taste it.”

It’s natural for humans to have questions and seek to answer them. Once I heard her answer, though, an unnatural, teacherly act followed. I tried to recapture the question, something like mounting a butterfly in a shadow box or preserving a specimen in a jar, so that a student could experience it also.

That’s this video and the attached lesson.

2. Rotonda West

Another example. It takes very little curiosity to appreciate the gorgeous, curated satellite images from, such as this image of a Florida housing development:


What’s trickier for me is to format that appreciation, that awe, into a question, to capture that question so I can share it with students.


Making that image (and the answer) required a certain technological know-how, sure, but the really challenging part is training myself to probe interesting items for the curious questions they contain. It’s one of teaching’s unnatural acts and it requires practice and feedback.

3. Challenge

Curiosity is cultivated. Curious people grow more curious. These are examples of how I cultivate my own curiosity.

With that said, what curious questions can you find in this interesting story and video about the tallest water slide in the world? How can we capture that curiosity and make it accessible and productive for our students?

Previously: How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Hello Dan
    I watched the video and I read the article and the comments. The really interesting, though mathematically challenging bit is dealing with the comment from the big guy (345lb). Would he shoot off the top of the bump into thin air (or space).
    An investigation into attitudes among the students towards this and thrill rides in general could come up with some unexpected conclusions about people, and some real uses for statitiscs…..
    And here is an outline of a very practical decision making problem: Your dad gives each of you 20 ride tokens for the day. Most rides cost 2 or 3 tokens, this one costs 6. “Still want to go on it?”. (or a variation)

  2. Fermi questions?


    I have been thinking about Fermi questions a lot recently, since having a look at some of the coding for the simple(?) games on one of the sites for which I blog. In the case of the Rotonda, the question that comes to mind is how many linear feet of aluminum siding was consumed to protect all that drywall. In the Schlitterbahn example, while there are too many to mention, I’ll start with this one: If the 345-lb guy was the rider, and the initial drop was maintained, how long would the track have to be to slow the luge down to zero assuming Schlitterbahn’s coefficient of friction? On a frictionless track (don’t laugh)?

    Of course, this assumes that the rider doesn’t think to unbutton his shirt and use it as a sail.

    For those who don’t know, a Fermi question is one that can only be answered by conjecture using orders of magnitude, like how many civilizations are out there in the galaxy who could be listening to our communications.

  3. I am curious how long it took them to descend and how fast they were going. A question for the students… do you think, if you went on that ride that you would go faster, slower, or the same speed as the folks in the video?

  4. Nathaniel Westlake Amrine

    July 19, 2014 - 5:11 am -

    Dan –

    A few months back I saw the water slide working through final preparations – thanks for the video of the first test trial. I would expect middle school kids would watch the video and think, “WOW, that’s awesome!” but not really much else. I approached it through the whole “slope” lens but couldn’t get anywhere without it feeling to contrived.

    As for the rotunda, love that picture and what it represents -especially if you show students this ( first and ask them what they find interesting.

    “What, you find nothing about this website interesting? Well, I didn’t either until I looked at the community from above!”

    Bam, instant student engagement.

  5. A few questions come to mind:

    How many people will fit on the stairs to this slide (assuming one person per step)?

    If there were no people waiting on the steps, what is the ratio of climb time to ride time?

    How much faster does the slide become with added weight?

    If there were 2 of these slides side by side, would you or your friend reach the bottom first? By how much?

  6. Had a thought on how to use this in class, forget to post it. I would probably approach this with my 8th graders via Hot Wheels. They have awesome flexi-tracks and students could model the slide and run tests. They could weigh cars and determine how it effects the speed during the ride.