Teaching Mathematics from a Christian Perspective

From James Bradley, ASCI World Report:

– Mathematics helps us see the order and beauty of God’s creation and thus of God Himself. Hence, mathematics derives its purpose, meaning, and value from God. Discussion of these themes can be a legitimate and valuable part of mathematics education.

– Teachers should enjoy mathematics, receive it gladly and thankfully as God’s gift, and cultivate a classroom climate in which students enjoy it and want to do it. Educational materials should support teachers in doing this.

– Teachers need to show students explicitly how mathematics fits into our God-given stewardship of the earth and into the building of human communities. For example, teachers need to explain ways that people have used mathematics to advance principles such as justice, responsible stewardship, and community building as well as ways that people have misused mathematics.

– For much of the twentieth century, an abstract approach devoid of context dominated mathematics. By contrast, a Christian approach says that mathematics is not autonomous but rather is an aspect of an interconnected creation. Thus, teaching needs to be contextual—it needs to establish clear connections with other subjects and with the practicalities of life.

– We as Christians do not despise the physical and glorify the mental and abstract. Rather, we value our bodies as God’s creation. Thus, teachers should, as much as possible, use teaching methods that actively engage students’ minds and bodies by means such as using manipulatives and having students collect and analyze data.

– Teachers need to discuss in their classes how the surrounding cultures view mathematics and how a Christian perspective differs. For example, until fairly recently, the United States and Western Europe overemphasized human reason. Now these cultures have swung in the other direction, tending to undervalue reason and overemphasize intuition. Asian, South American, African, and Western countries tend to value mathematics solely for its economic benefits, without considering that pursuing economic gain apart from a broader framework of godly service can be harmful.

– Students often think of mathematics simply as recipes for how to do problems. Teachers need to foster an attitude of deeper reflection on what mathematics can and cannot do for human beings, on the wonder of this gift from God, and on what its order and beauty tell us about God and His creation.

Free lessons and resources for following the above in integrating Christian faith in the teaching of mathematics from the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning.

Reflections from the ACMS 2011 Conference

I attended my first ACMS conference a few weeks ago at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. I had a blast. I was able to present a paper, hear some great talks, and meet/fellowship with some great mathematicians who are solid believers in their faith. Too many great moments to share them all, but here are a few thoughts/quotes from the meetings:

1. Texas needs to find a way to hijack California’s weather.

2. I have a great, beautiful, supportive, loving wife, and for this I am extremely blessed.

3. Art Benjamin is an entertaining teacher which is great to see in a mathematician. I’m sure people who have always hated the subject pay more attention when he is talking.

4. My magic square (Hint on what makes it so magic, 35):

5. He left his Father’s throne above So free, so infinite his grace! Emptied himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race. ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me!

6. This earth belongs to God…

7. It is amazing to see how such different branches of mathematics can work together in ways never before thought. The example of combinatorial proofs of trigonometric identities was very cool to see.

8. Building on 6, why would we want to find different proofs for stuff we have already proved? “The proofs we have may establish truth, but they don’t necessarily establish insight.” This quote sticks with me as an educator.

9. 2, 3, 5, 8, who do we appreciate? Fibonacci!

10. Paper by Jason Wilson of Biola University: The Divine mind is impressed on the world such that the secular mind recognizes it and seeks to use it for gain. The Biblical mind not only obtains a deeper understanding of it but is even beckoned to become a partaker of it. Notice the juxtaposition of wisdom in Proverbs 8 with Jesus in John 1:1-14.

11. I was pushed to really consider for what purposes I would use a math biography in my lessons – just to present ideas, or to bring out more in the life of the mathematician/believer.

12. The more we are able to recognize our weakness, the more we are able to practice true dependence on God.

13. Great site: the Mathematics Genealogy Project

14. Glenn Van Brummelen, Quest University, has a great self-described title: Mathematical Anthropologist. Need to read The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth.

15. In different cultures the goal wasn’t to convince you of the proof mathematically, but rather to give you different types of understanding – there was no “naturally” correct way of doing things.

16. When missionaries entered these cultures they brought their math with them, thinking a way to convert people to Christianity was to show them the superiority and power of the math and science that Christianity produced… perhaps this is not the best way of thinking 🙂

17. Are mathematical ideas universal, as evidenced in different cultures reaching similar results independently? Or is this just evidence of our shared humanity?

18. Mike Stob of Calvin College convinced me I need to use “R” next year with my AP Stat class.

19. Talithia Williams of Harvey Mudd College gave a great (and much needed) presentation on making students aware of the misapplication of statistics in American life. A great example is in how pharmaceuticals are now peddled directly to the consumer, yet since we don’t know the actual data from the studies, it is hard to know when to take a risk on certain medication. This might make a good stats-and-society project for students.

20. “Who we are mathematically is not who we always were, or who we will always be.”

21. Often models we use in the classroom are not accurately presenting the ways the material was learned at the time of its inception.

22. Some cultures preserved their mathematical ideas and passed them down in poems and songs – I’ve found these to be effective teaching tools in the past, I need more of them.

23. Wigner – in looking at the effectiveness of mathematics, the miracle is not in the connection of math with science, but in the math itself.

24. It was great to hear Bob Brabenec of Wheaton give a talk. I’ve mentioned his work on this blog on more than one occasion. It was interesting to hear him delineate between doing philosophy of mathematics and thinking philosophically about mathematics. I myself have realized that I probably fit more in the latter category.

25. Mark Colgan of Taylor University gave a great talk on encouraging students to connect topics in Calculus with Biblical ideas by using weekly reflection papers. Though I may not follow his model exactly, I very much like the idea of introducing reflection papers into my curriculum.

26. David Stucki of Otterbeing University gave a great talk on teaching students the concept of infinity. I wish I could have focused on it more and taken more notes, but my talk was right after his. He did list some great resources which I hope to contact him about and share here.

27. Mathematics Through the Eyes of Faith is due out in August. I got an advanced copy of it and it looks great! It really addresses some of the key issues in Mathematics and the Christian Faith. Do mathematical concepts point beyond themselves to a higher reality? Can the idea of chance be reconciled with God’s sovereignty? How do we account for mathematics being so effective in describing the world? How does giving people the capacity to do mathematics fit into God’s purposes for humanity? Should be a great read. I look forward to reviewing it.

28. In trying to describe the beauty and wonder of mathematics to a broader audience it is very difficult to “describe the mathematics simply without simplifying the problem,” which is where the beauty lies.

29. There was something wonderful about being in a room full of academic colleagues and being able to all worship the Lord together.

30. I hope I don’t have to wait two more years to this again.

I'm in there, but I'm half hidden. You can try to find me, but I think I made Waldo proud.

Integrating Faith and Mathematics: What We Can Learn From Process Theology

If you are a regular visitor to the blog, then you know that I have been intermittently posting items on the relationship of process theology and a Christian philosophy of mathematics. Well I am presently at the ACMS (Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences) Conference at Westmont College where tomorrow I will be presenting the paper from which these blog posts derive.

For the benefit of giving the live audience a point of reference (and I suppose also for the benefit of the reader at home) I wanted to post the paper here in its entirety:

Integrating Faith and Mathematics: What We Can Learn From Process Theology

Power Point Presentation Version

If you would like to read the entries in a more un-academified blog form, here you go (though I have not gotten around to posting the conclusions yet… you’ll have to read the paper for those):

Math in Process

Math in Process: An Introduction

Math in Process: Process Theology 101

Math in Process: The Influence of Mathematics on Process Theology

Math in Process: Critiquing the Process (Revelation and the Trinity)

Math in Process: Critiquing the Process (Person and Work of Christ)

While here at the ACMS conference I hope to blog regularly about different talks and conversations. Both for myself, as a way of working through the wealth of material I’m receiving, and for those readers at home (there I go being so thoughtful again) who might not have been able to attend the conference.

Looking forward to it.