Monday, May 27, 2019

The Prefix Post

I'm working on a long and comprehensive SWI blog post, listing all of the lessons from the year which I hadn't yet expounded upon, and recapping the year's study in chronological order so you can see how we got from fairly simple to fairly complex ideas. It's incredible how much they now know about the English language, and I've really seen evidence of that in their rough drafts of their MLB summaries. I see a lot fewer spelling mistakes! I can't wait to teach this subject again next year, since I'm totally smitten. And I'm hoping that more local homeschool students will also join us.

This particular lesson, from April 19th, is a little convoluted, so I'm giving it its own time here. It's a prefix exploration of < co >, < con >, and < com >.

The question was,
Does < con > carry a meaning of with or against?


This was already a question I was carrying around in my mind but it really came up to the surface because of the previous week's look at < combat >. We were doing the word < comb > and < combat > is not related... but it sure got us going in some interesting directions!

The word sum for < combat > is com + bat, with < bat > as the base (as in the word < battle >). The question here was also does < com > carry a sense of with or against? Are you beating/fighting with someone or against them? And are the letters < co > related to < com >? Do they mean with?

Prefixes aren't easy. They can indicate a sense of something but they don't really have a definintion the way a base does.

The prefix < re > does not simply mean again. As Gina says, if you touch the stove and burn yourself and you react, that does NOT mean you act again. You don't touch the stove again!

Here's the original < combat > discussion of possible word sums from April 12th; the underlined part is the hypothesized base:

    com + bat

    comb + at

    co + m + bat

    com + bat

Here are some of the words we came up with as a side note, when I asked for some evidence of a < co > prefix and a < com > prefix. You can see how much the co's and com's get jumbled up:

    copilot

    computer

    compact

    commercial

    computation

    competition

    compost

    combination

    commission

    commentary

    compound

    comet

    comment

One child hypothesized that < compost > was < com + post > with < post > as the base and a meaning of "sending away."

When we looked up < combat > we found that < bat > was the base and meant beat/fight and < com > was the prefix meaning with.

I knew the exploration of prefixes was going to be tricky, but the kids were really interested so we dove into it.

Soooo... on April 19th, I passed out yellow paper and red paper and put the kids in two groups. The group with yellow paper was looking for evidence that < con > meant with. The group with red paper was looking for evidence that < con > meant against (like "pros and cons"). I asked them to simply list as many words as they could think of that appeared to have that prefix with that meaning, and then begin to look them up as to language of origin.


Here are their lists and you can see how complex their thinking was.

    Yellow Team
    < Con > words with a possible meaning of "with"

    conceal

    concerned

    confirmation

    contents

    concert

    concoct

    concoction

    conversation

    continue

    congress

    construct

    consent

    confess

    connect

    context


    Red Team
    < Con > words with a possible meaning of "against"

    "pros & cons"

    contradict

    contest

    convince

    confiscate

    conquer

    conflict

    consult

    contrast

    confidential

    confident


The whole point here is to be thinking in terms of morphemes. What might be the prefixes or suffixes? What might be the base?

It is the thinking that matters.

And Ms. Flossie and I had a stimulating discussion about this as well, while the teams were working, which can happen when you're really truly doing an authentic investigation. Even the adults were thinking this one through! As we overheard teams come up with words we were automatically eliminating prefixes and suffixes to try to find the base and then considering word sums.

We knew the word < dictation > and so figured < dict > was the base which meant talk, which gave us evidence of the word sum < contra + dict > with < contra > as a possible prefix that meant against. Hmmm... < contra >, not < con >?

Discussing this further, we looked at < confiscate >, knowing < fisc > was probably a base (as in < fiscal > and with a sense of money). We got interested in this and looked up on etymonline whether there's a meaning of money in < confiscate > and, sure enough, there is.

We were also looking at < contrast > and if < contra > is a prefix which means against, how then would we create a word sum for < contrast >? Is it < contra + st >? We looked that up too and, yes, < st > is the base. It's a version of the PIE root *sta as in < stand > and < stance > and many other words, with a meaning of "to stand, set down, make, or be firm."

Ultimately we had a rousing discussion, with everyone presenting evidence that could support or falsify their hypothesis (that's the scientific method part of SWI). We looked it up and < con > is a Latin prefix meaning with or together. So that leaves us with many more questions that we are wondering about, like < contra > and < com >. An exploration for another time...

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