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Summer SAVY, Session 4 Day 2, Mathematicians in History (3rd – 4th)

Posted by on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in blog, SAVY.

Dear SAVY Families,  

We had another exciting, engaging, and challenging day of SAVY Summer 2024 Session 4: Mathematicians in History. Today, our focus was on the mathematicians, John Napier and Galileo Galilei, well-known for their part in Europe’s Renaissance.  We started the day by reminding ourselves that this math at SAVY is very different from what we learn in our regular school classrooms and that it is essential that we take risks in our thinking and are not afraid to share our mathematical problem-solving. To practice taking a risk, I posed the question: “Is mathematics discovered or invented?” The SAVY mathematicians had to choose a side and defend their point, which is a big risk to take in defending a very philosophical question. I was proud of the mathematicians for their bravery. 

John Napier is most well-known for his discovery of Napier’s Rods — a visual way to represent multiplication and to be able to multiply large whole numbers. These “first calculators” made multiplication possible for those who were unable to multiply during Napier’s time. We also learned about two different methods of multiplication: Lattice Multiplication and Russian Peasant Multiplication. While many SAVY mathematicians are already skilled multipliers, I was impressed with their willingness to put aside their knowledge of the standard algorithm and computation to recognize different parts of numbers that are being multiplied.  

Galileo Galilei is a very well-known scientist, known for his discovery of the sun being at the center of our universe. The mathematicians were curious to learn about Galileo’s contributions to mathematics as well. Galileo theorized about the speed of falling objects, noting that objects pick up speed, or velocity, as they fall, and that heavier items do not fall faster than light objects. This was confusing to the mathematicians, but when they learned about the principles of air resistance, it came together for them. Galileo was also well known for his work with pendulums. The SAVY mathematicians got to model and build their own pendulum while completing problems to determine the relationship between the pendulum length and the time of swing. We ended our discussion of Galileo by having a small debate to discuss whether we thought Galileo should be remembered more as a scientist or as a mathematician. 

To end the day, we returned to our generalizations about relationships. The SAVY mathematicians were quick to make connections between the work of Napier, Galileo, Pythagoras, and Archimedes, while also connecting to the generalizations that are guiding our class.  

Questions for tonight:  

  • Is math discovered or invented? Part of the natural world or created by humans? 
  • Who was John Napier? What did he contribute to mathematics?  
  • Who was Galileo Galilei? What did he contribute to mathematics?  
  • Should Galileo be remembered as a scientist or mathematician? Why? 
  • How does the work of Napier and Galileo connect to our generalizations of relationships?  


I hope the SAVY mathematicians get a good rest tonight, as their brains will be put to work again tomorrow! 


Ms. Gruchot