Twelve Faces

Wooden Dodecahedron Shape

“Most people’s lives are like a square. Mine is a dodecahedron.” My new eighth grader smiles at me. We’re just getting to know each other and she throws this at me. How brilliant. This is our entry point. This is the beginning of our study.

When I see her next, I write on the board. She already knows what it means and explains that “it’s a shape with twelve sides, I think.” I put it in the sentence she gave me last week and ask her how she might hypothesize to break it apart. She does her due diligence and does exactly what she’s been taught. She looks for vowels.

“Great thinking. I am impressed that you are applying what you have been taught. What if, just what if, there’s another way?” She looks and me and raises an eyebrow, interest piqued. “You mean, make it simpler?” Then her gears start to turn. She starts playing with the word, thinking of possibilities. This being our first work time together, she doesn’t know that we’re looking for meaning. That we are digging and dusting off, like archeologists, bringing denotations to light. She tries again, unprompted.

She hasn’t found the joints yet, but the beauty is that she is looking. She isn’t looking so that she can pronounce this word correctly. She isn’t looking at this point for spelling, though we will get to the story of these graphemes. She is looking for the point of the writing system. Meaning. So many interventions obscure and lose sight of what is most important. Meaning.

We get to <hedron> through <polyhedron> and talk about an idea of “sides” or “faces”. Another day we can dive into this gorgeous root that has a denotation of “seat, base, chair, or face” with relatives like <chair> and <cathedral> and <sediment>. 

Then we get to <do> and barely scratch the surface of this incredible piece, with relatives of <double> and <dozen> and <duo> and eventually to <two>. This is a rabbit hole for another day. She agrees but wants to pause so that she can write it down. She already is planning where we might study next. 

We eventually get to <deca> which we turn into <dec>. We make a home for <dec>, or a matrix, and begin exploring relatives, discussing the denotation of “ten”. <Decimal> and <December> are easy to see. She knows that a ten-sided shape is called a <decagon>. She sees it. She knows that she can extend this family and build on this base.

When we are out of time, making multitudes of notes on what we will do next time (and realistically many more times after), I tell her that her “homework” is to find more words with <dec>. I want her to collect them. She smiles and says “Oh, You KNOW I’m going to fill up this page!” What a way to start. First hypothesis decimated. Brains and pages full of possibilities.


Kelly Young
Kelly Young
I am a self-proclaimed word nerd bred from a family of language lovers and teachers. I began my career as an Intervention Specialist, spending 11 years in a Columbus Ohio public school district, working with kids K – 5.