Monday, December 05, 2005

Am I A Ratio, Too?

Today my students were defining new math terms, one of which was "ratio." I had the following conversation with two students. (I'm using pseudonyms of course.)

Jacob: I know all these words. My mom says I have a large vocabulary.
Me: Do you know what ratio means?
Jacob: No.
Me: Well, choose that one to look up, then.
Jacob: (thinks for a moment, then points at Carl.) Carl is a ratio!
Me: No, that's not the correct way to use it. Look it up and try again.
Jacob: (after looking up word) Carl is a comparison you get when two things come together.
Carl: (very indignant) I am not two things that come together! (looks at me, worry filling his tone) Am I?
Me: (silent and successfully keeping a straight face as I try to think of an appropriate answer)
Carl: No, wait! I'm four things.

Carl got back to work, apparently satisfied with his conclusion. A few minutes later he sat up straight in his chair and said, "I'm happy, sad, angry, and hyper! Four things!" Then he got back to work once more.

I absolutely love these moments, when my students are not the rough New York City kids from the projects, but children who are trying to make sense of our world. I did not correct Carl. After all, we'll get to ratios later in the week. But for now, I think there's a lot of truth to what he said. Today, I think I was four parts joy to one part frustration. Not a bad ratio to be considering some of what I'm up against. Of course, following my student's theory, I am probably four things. I'm just not sure which four things I am and I don't have the childhood luxury of clarity in this matter. Maybe I'll have to ask Carl.

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