“Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, You who are present everywhere filling all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of Life, come and dwell in us.” – An Orthodox Prayer

I love this prayer. Especially the last part, “Come and dwell in us.” It reminds me that everything I know comes to me because it has been embodied in something. For me to get that 2+2=4, I have to “see” it embodied in a picture, some examples, or a few manipulatives. For me to apprehend that whatever I sow, I will reap, I need to see it embodied in a little seed that grows into a plant. For me to see that God loves me, I need to see it embodied in the very life of my Savior.

“All things that can be known have number; for it is not possible that without number anything can either be conceived or known.” -Philolaus the Pythagorean, fifth century

I am most familiar with the ability of a story and myth to embody a truth or idea and present it to the reader in a beautiful and accessible way. I have experienced this reality over and over again, in my life and the lives of my students, and it is truly stunning. However, as I research the quadrivium, I am beginning to see the powers of mathematics accomplish this same thing, but in a much more precise, yet mystical way. The Mathematical arts show us embodied reality in a way that nothing else can.

I have, to be honest, I feel ill-equipped to be writing these posts on the Quadrivium. I am just beginning to touch on the mathematical arts and only receiving vague glimpses of its beauty. Nevertheless, I know that if I do not try I may never apprehend more, and that would be a tragedy to remain where I am. Therefore, this article, and the next represents some of what I have discovered about the mathematical arts of the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Harmonics, Geometry, and Astronomy. Today we will look at Arithmetic a little closer.

In the Liberal Arts tradition by Clark & Jain, they point out that arithmetic is the art of discrete mathematics. According to tradition, Harmonics is an extension of arithmetic, in that it is discrete mathematics in time. Discrete mathematics has to do with individual quantities and their relationships to each other. For example, a discrete way of looking at a line on a graph would be to notice all the individual points on the line, as opposed to the range of points or just the line as a whole.

This definition of arithmetic came from Nicomachus’s De Arithmetica, which is one of the most imitated math books in the history of mathematics.

“For Nicomachus, deeply understanding the necessary connection and relationships among numbers would have been an essential element of the liberal art of arithmetic.” – Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition

Developing number sense within ourselves and our students is something many of us desire. We all intuitively know that those who have a sense of numbers “see” more and can do more within the world of numbers. After reading Clark & Jain’s words about arithmetic, I think I am beginning to see why that is. They point out that mathematics if studied classically, ought to lead us to work, wisdom, worship, and wonder. There is something contained within the practice and study of math that transforms, which makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it would not be one of the liberal arts. It is just so astonishing to me that MATH has such power. I grew up crying over math and learning to despise it. I have had to come to terms with the fact that just because I do not see the beauty in something, does not mean it is not there. Therefore, I have committed myself to studying mathematics until I see its beauty. I refuse to give up. I expect however that my awakening to the beauty of mathematics will not come by driving my math facts, but rather from allowing myself to wonder about it.

“Students who encounter mathematics in wonder are far more likely to commit to the rigors of its work.” -Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition

Clark and Jain describe the difference in the tenor of the ancient math books from that of today. They say there was an air of magic to the way the ancients talked about numbers. I took a peek at Nicomachus’s De Arithmetica, and it is true. At first I was not sure that I was reading a math book at all.

I feel certain that for us to recover arithmetic in all its glory we need to regain some of that magic, and we need to play with numbers.

To regain the magic we need to read books like:

Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott

The Joy of Mathematics by Theoni Pappas

We also need to have conversations like the one I had recently with Daniel Maycock of Polymath Classical Tutorials and we need to attend things like the CiRCE Conference, where we can hear speakers talk about beauty we have yet to apprehend.

To play with numbers we need to do things like:

Counting

Number Bonds

Fact Families

Factorization

Prime Factorization

Estimating

Finding as many ways as possible to name a quantity

Of course, we can simply do these things no matter what math curriculum we use. Some math curriculums have these elements present in them more than others. My personal favorites are Ray’s Arithmetic and Rod & Staff. Ray’s especially has a way of getting to the business of playing with numbers right away. I use this curriculum with my youngest daughter, and I already see the fruit. She sees numbers everywhere, and there is such delight involved. I use Rod & Staff with my older two. I needed a little more support for them, and Rod & Staff provided it. However, I cannot tell you how many times I have thought “I wonder if the Rod & Staff people used Ray’s as direct inspiration for their text?”

The truth is, no matter what curriculum you use it will be your attitude that mostly directs the experience your children have with math. So, maybe you are already there, Great! But, maybe, the first thing some of us need to do is have a real conversation with the Lord about it. *I know*, we are talking about math, but if everything in this world is a way for me to know my Lord, don’t you think He would want to help me seek Him? Therefore, when I am struggling with some academic area, I treat it as any other area of struggle. I repent and I ask for guidance. I seek mentors, whether they are in person, online, or in books. I give focused attention to doing better and I trust the Holy Spirit to bring Pentecost for myself and my students.

What are you doing to bring math alive in your homeschool? Have you seen the magic in math? I would love to hear your stories. Join the conversation here.

Expanding wisdom, extending grace,

Jen

**Resources used in Research**

The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Kevin Clark & Ravi Jain

Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-Enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott

Khan Academy Video: **Abstract-ness**: The general idea behind the word ‘abstract’

Khan Academy Video: **The beauty of algebra**: Why the abstraction of mathematics is so fundamental

Jennifer A says

Oh my goodness, yes to all of this! I’m reading this several times, because that is how I feel. I know there is beauty in math, I just can’t see it. And I want to see it and teach it. Thank you for the resources, I’m really excited about De Arithmetica. It’s hard work, but necessary I think, to redeem our education. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But I love those moments when I find something, like division, and share it with the kids. We all get so excited! Thank you for writing this Jennifer!

Jennifer Dow says

I am so glad it is a help to you. Math has been a serious struggle for me. Maybe we can gain victory together! 🙂

Sharyn says

I am in the middle of relearning math. Crewton Ramone’s House of Math is my number one resource! I do not know his worldview but I worship when I begin to get a glimpse of the math connection studying his videos.

A Beginner’s Guide to Reconstructing the World is my second non Christian resource. Once again, any truth and wonder I glean from this resource takes me back to my savior and His creation!!!

Jennifer Dow says

Wow that is awesome. I have never heard of those resources. Thank you for sharing!

Jennifer Dow says

I think I just found one on Amazon: Is this what you were talking about? A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe? http://amzn.to/1Hq9FGO I could not find the exact title you mentioned. Thank you for your help.

Sharyn says

That’s it. Very universalist but still has nuggets of goodness. Very enjoyable.

Sharon Gretencord says

Very nicely written! I have two math degrees and have always loved math. But I was not taught it in the classical sense and I struggle with how to bring that beauty to my children.

Jennifer Dow says

Wow. That means a lot coming from you! What are your math degrees in? General math or a specific focus in math?

Sherry says

I don’t teach in a classical school, however I try to do what I can to teach classically. Any advice? Thanks.

Jennifer Dow says

That is a great question! My first thought would be to embody that love and magic and wonder as much as possible. So much is caught! I also think keeping in mind the idea that our goal as teachers is to build a relationship with what we are learning. That is the only way it can translate to right action on behalf of what we learn. Maybe asking the question ‘How does the teaching/presentation method help my student build a relationship with what they are learning?”

herbwifemama says

I have settled on Making Math Meaningful from David Quine for our homeschool, and I think it does what you talked about above very well.

Jennifer Dow says

I have heard of that program. Thank you for sharing!