Friday, February 29, 2008

Life on Venus

Scene: A snow-covered road. Harriet is walking AJ to school.

Harriet: You have a spelling test today, right?

AJ: Yeah.

Harriet: Are you ready?

AJ: I think so.

Harriet: Let’s practice. Spell “genetics.”

AJ: G-E-N-E-T-I-C-S.

Harriet: What does “genetics” mean?

AJ: Well, it’s like the study of life. And it has something to do with chromosomes. It’s like about how if you have red hair or blue eyes, one of your parents and some of your grandparents do too.

Harriet: That’s about all I know about genetics. That’s a great definition for a first grader. Spell “chromosome.”

AJ: C-H-R-O-M-O-S-O-M-E. Chromosomes tell you if a baby will be a girl or a boy. If there’s an X from the mom and an X from the dad, then it’s a girl. If there’s an X from the mom and a Y from the dad, it’s a boy.

Harriet: That’s right. [thinking: Please don’t ask me how they get together. Please. Please.] Spell “impossible.”

AJ: That’s easy. I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E.

Harriet: Okay, Mr. Smartypants. Use it in a sentence.

AJ: It is impossible for an astronaut to live on Venus for more than 20 seconds.

Harriet: Excellent. Has an astronaut even been to Venus?

AJ: I don’t know. I think so.

Harriet: I’m not sure about that. I think it might just be robots who’ve been to check it out. I’ll look it up when I get home.

* * * * *

And I did, too. And I found this site which, in addition to having some really cool pictures of the Transit of Venus, also informs us that “any astronaut who landed on Venus would be simultaneously crushed, roasted, choked and dissolved.” I’d say that’s a pretty definitive “no.” I showed AJ the website when he got home from school.

“Ouch,” he said.

“Which do you think would be the worth thing?” I asked him.

He considered it. “Probably dissolved, I think.”

I have to agree with him there.

AJ also came home from school with a completed “challenge packet” of math problems that were actually challenging, unlike the last one. There were word problems that involved multiplication. There were questions that involved the estimation of the area of shapes when the area of a smaller shape was known. There were questions about probability and graphing. In short, it was math at about the level I can handle and AJ came through it with flying colors. The one area he has trouble with is in showing his work. We’ve done so much mental math with him at home, that he doesn’t always understand how to write down the middle steps. But we’re helping him practice turning word problems into “number stories” as his math book calls equations and he’s doing better.

The interesting thing is that the more challenging work he’s been getting lately seems to have turned him on in other areas at school as well. He’s really thrown himself into the project on Viet Nam that his class is doing. I really like seeing that he’s able to take a project that everyone’s doing and find a way to get more out of it for himself just because he’s interested. He’s always been like that at home, but not with schoolwork. I think it’s finally sinking in that he can make of his time at school what he wishes (well, to some degree).

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