News from Mathnasium of Fort Lee
The Dog Days of Summer
Aug 7, 2016
I’ve just noticed that lately, our blog features dogs: Max and our dog Muffin. Coincidentally, we’re in the “dog days” of summer. The term “dog days” originated in the hot sultry late summer days around the Mediterranean and coincides with the rising of the star Sirius -- the dog star -- in the constellation Canis Major -- the greater dog. These are ancient mythological and Latin names stemming from the time of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; and they survive to modern day.
Aquila, a new student joined us this week, and he was curiously examining our “cheat sheet”, a unit conversion table that we include in every Mathnasium student curriculum binder. It is an extensive list of conversions between various units, for example for the calendar: 1 decade = 10 years, 1 century = 100 years, 1 millennium = 1,000 years, and so on. We use our conversion table as an extensive source of quirky numbers that exercise multiplication and division skills; and of course to keep unit conversions fresh in our students' minds.
I like it when a student expresses curiosity and it’s a teaching moment that we teachers hope for. Mathnasium gives us the luxury of individualized teaching at each student’s pace; unlike group or classroom setting where teachers have to keep to a learning plan. So we continued breaking these units down to their root words; “dec” meaning 10, “cent” meaning hundred, “mille” meaning thousand; and relating them to familiar names such as the 100-cents in dollars-and-cents, and millepede (mille-ped or thousand legs).
This led to a discussion on other familiar latin numeric roots in everyday use. Octopus (8 footed) led to months October, November, December, and September - respectively the ancient Roman months 8 (octo), 9 (novem), 10 (decem), and 7 (septem). Of course, that beget the question, why is 8th month October month 10 today? Well, I retold a story I learned. Julius Caesar (about 44 BC) was born in the middle of the year, and to ensure his legacy, inserted his name as month July into the Calendar. His adopted son Augustus Caesar followed suit and inserted his name as month August. Together, they shifted the original months of 7, 8, 9, and 10 to where they are today. As I wrote this, I did some research and I found that I was wrong. In fact, the reason why the months are off by 2 is because the first month of the Roman calendar was March; and the shift occurred when January became the start of the year to realign the calendar with the seasons. A pity, because I prefer my flawed recollection as the ego of these ancient emperors makes for a compellingly memorable story.
Our language and traditions are interwoven, and their history is embedded in our number and unit systems. They are ancient and surprisingly stable. At Mathnasium, we’re happy to use any means to pique our students’ interest and cement concepts with further insight and trivia. After this short (albeit slightly flawed) romp through history, Aquila and I had a relaxing time working through his first Mathnasium session. We can’t ask for more during these dog days of summer, when our students are lulled by the summer heat and tired from endless summer activities.
Update 1/25/2017 - See Aquila's persuasive writing class essay on Mathnasium.
Photo of Sirius from: https://rita314.wordpress.com/tag/sirius/
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