Defining Mathematics

Thinking of mathematics as the "ship," and the definition as the "captain," the way we define mathematics can greatly influence how we use it.

Thinking of mathematics as the “ship,” and the definition as the “captain,” the way we define mathematics can greatly influence how we use it. (Wikipedia photo of the tall ship “Elissa.”)

The Challenge of Defining Mathematics

Throughout history, humans have never settled on one particular definition for mathematics. Part of the reason is the abstract nature of mathematics, and the way general mathematical truths can apply to an infinite number of situations. For example, think of numbers. Numbers are abstract ideas. The number 3 is an idea of “threeness,” and can be used to describe 3 bears, 3 cars, 3 words, etc.

Here are a few of the ways famous mathematicians and mathematics teachers have defined mathematics:

  • The science which investigates the means of measuring quantity(L. Euler, Elements of Algebra, 1765).
  • The foundation of exact thought as applied to natural phenomena(A.N. Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911).
  •  Mathematics is the classification and study of all possible patterns(W. W. Sawyer, Prelude to Mathematics, 1955).
  • A study of space and quantity (Kline, Mathematics and the Physical World, 1959).

If Math is the Ship, Then its Definition is the Captain

Do you think it matters how mathematics is defined in the math courses you or your children do? I’ve been thinking about this question for many years now, and I think the answer is most definitely “yes!” A good definition can set the foundation for the entire course. And for a mathematics curriculum writer like myself, it can set the foundation for not just one course, but the entire curriculum. Thinking of mathematics as the “ship” and the definition as its “captain,” a good captain can use the ship for what it’s designed for. A good captain knows who built the ship. A good captain can help others better understand what the ship is capable of.

How Shormann Mathematics Defines Math

At DIVE, we are getting close to launching our own standalone mathematics curriculum, Shormann Mathematics. Algebra 1 is the first course. For the first year, it will be available as a live, online class (click here to register). In Shormann Mathematics, we will use the following definition for mathematics:

mathematics: the language of science and a God-given tool for measuring and classifying pattern and shape.

This definition tells us that mathematics, with all of its unique symbols, is best thought of as a language. It is a language we can use to study creation. Next, this definition tells us mathematics is about measuring things. It also tells us mathematics helps us find truth, goodness and beauty as we classify pattern and shape.

But most importantly, this definition of mathematics tells us “who built the ship.” Mathematics is not man-made, it is God-given. Created in His image (Genesis 1:26), we are designed by God to use this tool to be creative, too! God designed us to be creative and to engage in fruitful, productive activities (Genesis 1:28).

What’s the “Common Core” of Your Math And Science Curriculum?

A lot is being discussed right now about “Common Core” curriculum promoted by the United States government. Unfortunately, man and his ever-changing ideas are at the core of this curriculum. At DIVE, we strive to place Jesus Christ at the core of all our products, and we pray that this will result in students learning math and science for His glory and the service of others. We would appreciate your prayers as we seek to put a new captain at the helm of the ship of mathematics, helping students use the ship for what God intended it for!

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