Raising an Isaac Newton


©Copyright 2002 by Cindy Downes, All rights reserved.

It’s difficult to encourage your children to study mathematics if you can’t give them a good reason for doing so. Unfortunately, very few of us know a good reason. Although most of us will agree that a solid foundation in basic arithmetic is essential, mathematics such as trigonometry and calculus seem to be irrelevant to all but the “elite few.”

Most of us lack “a good reason” to study mathematics because of the way we were educated. We were taught in classrooms, using traditional textbooks, where the goal was to memorize formulas, plug numbers into the formulas, and get the “right” answers on a test. Mathematics had little relevance to real life. As John Taylor Gatto says in his book, A Different Kind of Teacher, “… the work in classrooms isn’t significant work; it fails to satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn’t contribute to solving problems encountered in actual life.”

There were periods in history, however, when people knew “a good reason” to study mathematics. Between the 16th and 18th century, scholars studied mathematics “with the conviction that the biblical God had designed the universe in a rational and orderly fashion; in fact, so orderly that it could be described mathematically.” (James Nickel, Mathematics: Is God Silent?) Men like Kepler, Newton, Pascal, and Euler, “had no question in their minds that God had fashioned a rational, orderly universe” and that “He (God) had given man alone the capacity to discover and to put to use its most intimate secrets.” (Gale Christianson, In the Presence of the Creator.)

We can help the future generations remember and obey God’s mandates by giving them a mathematics education taught from God’s perspective. Simply having them complete a textbook, containing an occasional scripture or two, is not the answer. Our teaching must not only instruct them in basic arithmetic, but also enable them to see how mathematics can “describe the wonders of God’s creation, reveal the invisible attributes of God, serve to aid man in fulfilling God’s mandate of dominion, and assist God’s people in fulfilling God’s mandate of worldwide evangelism.” (James Nickel, Mathematics: Is God Silent?)

Try setting aside one day per week to use some of the following ideas in lieu of a math textbook. By doing so, you may raise up a future Isaac Newton. Your child may be the next one who discovers a mathematical principle that provides a better way of life for God’s people or creates a new tool to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

1. Show them how mathematics reveals the wonders of God’s creation and the invisible attributes of God. The best resource I have found to help parents in this area is, Mathematics: Is God Silent? by James Nickel. It is not an easy read so I recommend you read it and explain it’s highlights to your children. You can purchase this from Amazon.com or directly from the publisher, Ross House Books, PO Box 67, Vallecito, CA 95251. For your children, look for resources that explain the mathematical structure of music. (Did you know that all musical notes can be described in a mathematic formula except those sounds that are not pleasing to the ear?) Teach them about Fibonacci’s sequence and discuss how it relates to God’s creation. Read about the “Divine Proportion” and show them how it relates to patterns in nature and in art. Read and discuss infinity and relate it to our infinite God. Discuss how God is unchangeable and how mathematics echoes this with it’s unchangeable laws. Some resources for the above:

2. Show them how mathematics progressed through history. Read them books about the history of math in terms children can understand. The Wonderful World of Mathematics by Lancelot Hogben is easy to read and colorfully illustrated. As most books written about the history of math, it does include a brief reference to evolution. First published in 1955 as, Man Must Measure. Unfortunately, it is out of print - check used bookstores. Well worth locating. Check your library.

3. Read to them biographies of famous mathematicians and show them how Godly people used math to subdue the earth and advance God’s kingdom. Read biographies of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Euler, and Sir Isaac Newton. Find out what motivated them to learn math and what their discoveries did to advance God’s kingdom. Examples:

4. Read a variety of math books - here is a list of my favorite math reading.

5. Show them how math affects real life. Give them real life applications to math. For example: when studying fractions, give them cooking classes, build a treehouse, or do other real life activities that depend on the use of fractions. Read books that show real people using math. Example: She Does Math! Real-life Problems from Women on the Job by Marla Parker includes brief autobiographies of several mathematicians and describes how they use math in their careers. It also includes problems for the readers to solve. 7th+

6. Give them a good foundation in basic math facts — the tools they need to go to the next level. Use their learning style as much as possible to drill facts:

7. Give them music lessons. It has been proven that music lessons help your children to learn math. You can do this inexpensively at home with resources such as the James Bastien Piano course which are available at most music supply houses.

8. Help them understand math concepts, not just work formulas. Read books to them about math such as Angles are Easy as Pie by Robert Froman, which is an introduction to angles for young readers; and Fraction Fun by David A. Adler, which is an introduction to fractions for young readers. Other titles by these authors as just as good. Check your library.

9. Teach them how to think logically. Give your children practice in logic. In the early history of our country, junior high age students read books such as Pascal’s Penseés and Payne’s Common Sense. Now these are only read at ivy league colleges such as Harvard and Yale. A good resource of logic instruction for students who are not ready for Penseés or Common Sense is Critical Thinking Books. I especially recommend Think A Minutes, Level A Book 1.

10. Let them explore math as their interest arises. As a child, Pascal was homeschooled by his father who believed that natural curiosity should lead children in their study. Consequently, Pascal was allowed to spend hours reading on his own and studying what interested him. Through his reading, he became interested in geometry, and before he was 12 years old, he mastered 32 theorems of Euclid’s Elements without his father’s knowledge or instruction. At age 18, he invented a calculating machine just because he wanted to help his father with his tax work. Why not give your children time to explore their interests? As they come across something in their textbook which interests them, allow them to put the textbook aside and explore that interest.

11. Help them be good stewards of the math ability they have received. God has given each of our children different gifts and abilities. Your role as their parent is to help them identify these gifts and then help them to develop them for God’s glory. Not all children will be future Sir Isaac Newtons. Stretch those who show a mathematical gifting, but don’t force a future businessman to master Euclid’s Elements. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10-NIV).



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