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Base-10 Freak

Despite my claims of being cool a few posts back, in many ways I’m a freak.  Planes, bats, and lightening turn me into a raving lunatic – hence the Lorazepam stash I considered breaking in to a few weeks back.  Breaching whales, high thread count sheets, and Pecan Sandies have all given me spasms of delight.

Even math can get me going.  Especially the base-10 system.  That’s right, I just love thinking about how magnificently our little number system works for so many things.  And I work myself into a state of delirium thinking of cool ways to help kids get it.

I mean really get it.  In their bones.

If you don’t think much about our number system, let me just say that there is nothing more natural about our base-10 system than binary or hexadecimal systems, which are used in lots of computer programming.  In our system, we have only the numerals 0 through nine.  In a binary system, we have only the numerals 0 and 1.  And in a hexadecimal system we have only sixteen numerals, 0 through 9, A, B, C, D, E, and F.  The only reason that our ten-numeral system feels natural is that we have been using it since preschool.

It makes sense that we came up with a ten-numeral system (think about your fingers!). But if we had four fingers on each hand and had come up with a base eight system, it would have felt just as natural to think of this many asterisks – ************ – as 14.  I just love thinking about that.

Which is why we spend our days tossing 10 paper clips into a bowl so we can learn all of the combinations that add up to ten.  And using Base-10 blocks to count the days we’ve been in school. And doing word problems with place value mats.  And why I’ll never teach them any algorithms that involve “carrying” or “borrowing” until they have mastered lots of mental arithmetic.  I’m trying to raise Base-10 Freaks so I won’t feel so lonely in this world.

Imagine my delight when we were reading a storybook this morning and decided to add up all of the relatives of Ping, a duck who lives on the Yangtze River.  We already had 49 relatives when we needed to add 11 brothers.

Without hesitating, Zach said, “Sixty!”

When I responded with a smile, he continued. “I just added one to get to fifty and then went up ten more.”

That might not seem like a big deal for a second grader.  But he couldn’t have done it a month ago.  And when he did, my freak heart rejoiced.

  • Tracey Stanelun

    Love this story Tara. Recently I was playing Go Fish (the card game) with my 6 year old home schooled niece. "Got any 5's?" I asked her. "Nope," she said. "But I have a 10 and you can have half!" I've no idea where (or how) she learned that half of 10 is 5, but does it really matter?

    Sounds like homeschooling is starting to come "naturally" to you all! :)

  • RebecaF

    I can really appreciate your love of base-10. I nearly failed 'Math for Teachers' in college because my brain couldn't wrap itself around any other system. It still can't! But it can now do ANOVAs and regression and all that scary stats stuff (Yeah!).