Tag Archives: half

Zero=half revisited

A few weeks back, Tabitha asked Why are zero and half the same? I was curious to know whether that conversation had affected her thinking in any way. So I asked.

Me: Tabitha, do you still think zero and half are the same? Or have you not thought about that in a while?

Tabitha (six years old): I think…Half isn’t a number. I mean, it’s made of numbers put together, but it’s not a number.

Me: What is a number?

I love this question. How people answer it can be revealing. I asked a version of it of Griffin when he was in Kindergarten.

T: 4\frac{1}{2} is a number.

Me: Oh? 4\frac{1}{2} is a number, but not one-half?

T: Yeah. But it doesn’t really get used.

Me: What do you mean by that?

T: Well, people say, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, but not 4\frac{1}{2}.

Me: Oh. So when we count count, we skip over 4\frac{1}{2}?

T: Yeah.

We are both silent for a few moments, thinking.

T: Zero, too. People don’t count starting at zero. They say 1, 2, 3…

Me: Yeah. Isn’t that funny?

T: It should go half, zero, 1, 2, 3…

It seems clear that has indeed been thinking about that conversation. She is struggling with the betweenness of \frac{1}{2}; that it expresses a number between 0 and 1.


A propos of nothing the other day, Tabitha asked a strange question.

Tabitha (six years old): Why are zero and half the same?

Me: They aren’t.

T: Like seven is one more than six, but zero and half are the same. They’re both nothing.

Me: One half? if you have half of something, that’s more than nothing.

T: But half, the number, that’s the same as the number zero.

Recall that last fall, she was not convinced that one-half was a number at all.

She now accepts that one-half is a number. But she hasn’t really dealt with the idea that there are numbers between other numbers. She is doing a bit of beautiful kindergarten logic here. Her premise is that there is only one number less than 1, namely 0. She has also accepted that one-half is a number less than 1. Therefore, one-half and zero are the same.

And—rightly—she is suspicious of this conclusion. The logic is sound, but it doesn’t make sense.

I go to work on that first premise.

Me: Oh. I see. Well, one-half—the number—is between zero and one.

I draw this picture, which I feel is certain to be totally unconvincing.

I was writing upside down. Forgive the crummy 2's. Note the complex fraction. Take that, Common Core!

I was writing upside down. Forgive the crummy 2’s. Note the complex fraction. Take that, Common Core!

But then again, we hadn’t talked about one-half being a number since October. That last conversation seems to have been fermenting all this time, so maybe this one will do the same.

To be continued, I am sure.