Antivenin? For Real?

I can’t read through my local daily newspaper without running across more than one misspelling, typo, or grammar error. I guess the copy editor was fired and not replaced some time ago. Anyway, this morning I was reading an article about the recent flooding in Louisiana and came across what I thought was a misspelling of antivenom – the word I saw was antivenin. Couldn’t be right – could it?

So, I consulted my handy Dictionary.com and was really surprised to learn that I had been doing it wrong all my life! (Sidenote: I should get partial credit for only having 2 letters wrong out of 9 – let’s call it a C+.)

My students do the same thing – well, not all of them, but there is a sizable number who express surprise at being told that they are misapplying a concept, and swear that’s how they were told to do it. They stubbornly cling to their false knowledge, and I spend a lot of time unteaching them things they have mislearned!

I think about what motivated me to consult the dictionary – after all, my experience told me to expect the newspaper to be wrong, so why did I doubt myself in this case? I remembered another time when I was in a similar situation – that time the word was temblor and it was referring to an earthquake. I thought it should have been tremor – so I looked it up and was surprised to find that I was wrong. If I was wrong once, I could be wrong again – so now I know the correct word for snakebite antitoxin.

I want my students to consult their mathematical dictionary – I want them to be curious about their process and question themselves if something they are doing doesn’t make sense – after all, it could be right but it could also be wrong. Either way, what they learn will more likely become part of their permanent mathematical memory.

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3 Responses to “Antivenin? For Real?”

  1. Christopher Says:

    So what do you do in your teaching practice to encourage students to consult their mathematical dictionaries?

    • Mary Daunis Says:

      I try not to be their dictionary – I don’t answer their questions fully – I ask them questions – and I hope that my questions lead them to the answers they seek – I guess I just don’t tell them the whole story, but instead try to get them to fill in the details for themselves – and I try to make the story interesting to them – that is the hard part!

  2. Christopher Says:

    So here’s the thing about the dictionary analogy. Nothing is related to anything else in the dictionary. One word comes after another and the only relationship is how the two words are spelled. What does the dictionary analogy offer you in thinking about your teaching, and in what ways might it be limiting?

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