Science and Latin: My Love-Hate Relationship
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
In college, I had a Biology professor that had one consistent and very annoying habit.
At the end of every exam, he'd make one question that didn't relate at all to the content we were learning. In fact, the last question wasn't a question at all. It was a word. He'd choose a scientific word that we'd likely never even heard before and ask us to define it.
At the time, my compartmentalized, great-at-memorization brain would just about explode every time I came to that question. How on earth did he expect us to know the definition of a scientific word that we'd never heard?!
Latin and Greek roots. That's how.
You see, the basis of scientific terminology comes from Latin and Greek. By learning prefixes such as "endo" and roots like "pulmon", we could begin to dissect new scientific terms when we came across them in textbooks and scientific articles. And in frustrating college exams.
Well, I've grown older and wiser since my college days and I see the validity in his methods. Rather than frustrating my high school students, however, I try to work through scientific terms with them as we learn.
"Remember cytoplasm? Well, now we're discussing leukocytes. "Cyte" = cell. See?"
They love it. Ok, well, not really. But the goal is bigger than helping them ace the next test or get through Anatomy. Ideally, during the short time they're in my class, I'd like them to progress towards being scientifically literate adults. And scientific literacy isn't just memorizing a bunch of "sciency" facts. (Although if you want to test your factual knowledge of science, this is a fun quiz.)
As adults in a first world nation, we are constantly bombarded with media and politics that relate to science. After my students head out into this great big world as adults, I'd like them to be able interpret a scientific article or understand a nutrition blog without having to use Google for every new term they come across. Raising scientifically literate citizens enables us to have knowledgeable voters and consumers that aren't swayed by every new "study" conducted by the latest celebrity.
As adults in a first world nation, we are constantly bombarded with media and politics that relate to science.
I know you join me in understanding the need for raising our students to think for themselves. And that's a lofty goal. But I'm here to help you with the first baby step- at least in the world of science. Much to the dismay of my college self, it's Latin and Greek.
In the link below, I've provided a quick little matching activity that works well for science students of all ages. You can see a preview of it in the video below.
Find the Science and Latin Roots flashcards in my Free Science Stacks.