In order to increase the students' comfort level with the Latin they so often encounter when researching etymology, we're spending some time in between Thanksgiving and Christmas getting just a taste of Latin. We began today with the spells and names in the Harry Potter novels (I've started putting some resources here).

To get us started, I found and and edited a video of HP characters casting spells in the first few movies and showed it to the children to whet their appetites before diving into choosing and reseaching a few to add to their Word notebooks. In a previous class we had briefly introduced the idea of Latin using word endings rather than word order to indicate meaning. Now, the plan is that next week we will go into that more deeply, looking at the standard declensions and conjugations, with the goal that they will begin to be able to look at a Latin root (say 'sectus' or 'sectio") and realize that the <-us> or <-io> are just endings, and that is the part they need to look at more closely. This kind of thing often trips them up -- for instance they come across 'sectio" and conclude that section is sectio + n.

I teach three sections (there it is again) of fifth graders, and in the first two it went about as you'd expect -- the children were excited, found lots of good information, and had a good time waving their pencils at each other and casting spells, in between writing their findings in their notebooks. But the third section, which comes right after lunch and tends to be more rambunctious, started, right from the beginning of the video, spontaneously to make connections and call out related words as they heard each spell in the video: leviosa (levitate! levitation!), petrificus totalis (petrified! totally!), immobulus (mobile! mobility!), and so on. As they went on (the video was about 6 minutes long) it started getting more competitive, seeing who could come up with the fastest connection, or the larger quantity, etc.

This same group is also getting much more spontaneous in their approach to new words. We were reviewing concepts, and they couldn't remember (avert your eyes, Melvyn!) what "orthography" meant.

"Well, that graphy thing means it's a study of something," says one.

"I go to the orthodontist, so is it something about teeth? No, that can't be right," says another. Another connection.

"No, it's the dontist part that's the teeth part."

Another whips over to the dictionary. "Straight, it means straight. Study of straightness?"

"Is that all it says?"

"Oh, no, it also says 'correct'."

"Wait, graphy isn't study of, that's ology. Graphy is drawing or something. Like photography."

And so on, until they get it figured out. The path from here to there isn't straight, and this constant making of connections leads to many byways and deadends and branching paths, some of which lead somewhere else. But you know what? We get to see a lot more of the forest that way.