Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

Third graders are so amazing. We were making prepositional phrases with their new prepositions and they wanted to say “in front of a bear” in Latin. I told them the word for bear is ursus, ursi and we declined it to see which form we needed for our prepositional phrase. I remembered that they study astronomy in science and asked them if they had learned about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (lit. Great Bear and Little Bear) which contain the Big and Little Dippers. Most of them were somewhat familiar with these so I asked them why it was ursa and not ursus. Hands went up. It’s because it is a mama bear with her cub. They figured this out because they know that the “a” ending makes it feminine. We also talked about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor being constellations. Since cum is one of their new Latin prepositions, we talked about the roots of the word constellation. When cum is used as a prefix it often means together. The Latin word for star is stella. So constellation literally means stars that are together.

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