Author: Stan Sudan
Current Sixth Grade Teacher and Pedagogical Chair
Geometry is all around us. It’s in the air. It’s in the earth. It’s on the frozen ice on the windowpane when we look out upon a snowy winter day from the comfort of our cozy, shielded-from-the elements home. It’s as ephemeral as the shimmer of a dancing fire as we relax with our feet stretched out toward its warmth, or remember the heat waves that alter our perspective of the world on a hot, summer day. In a word, geometry is everywhere—enough so that the ancient mathematician Euclid deduced that the entire universe could be deconstructed into its most elemental structure to appear in the shape of a right triangle. That’s right. The entire universe, he deduced, was constructed of triangles.
The geometry of any substance has amazed and been the focus of study and contemplation by humans since before the ancient Greek culture, but it was Euclid who assembled the theories and principles of geometrical construct into a written compendium that for 2,000 years was the basis for all foundational studies of geometry. Euclid was regarded as the founder of geometry, and by far is the most influential mathematician of all time. Until individuals like Buckminster Fuller came along in the twentieth century, Euclid’s name was a the only synonym for geometry. Teachers might have asked students if they had “read their Euclid today?”
Although Euclid was not necessarily renowned for being an original mathematician, his greatest contribution to mathematics was to collect in one book, known as the Elements, all the important parts of the best work done by the Greek mathematicians who came before him. Euclid was born around 365 B.C in Alexandria, Egypt and lived until about 300 B.C.
Geometry is so inextricably tied to nature, and in our observation of the phenomena observable in all of life, that when we look at the delicate shapes that make up the crystalline structure of ice, or the spirals in pinecones, or in the swirls of clouds overhead, or in the repeating shapes of a growing stalk of a single branch from a bush, we should not forget to think of Euclid, and to ponder that most famous collection of his 13 books–which, interestingly, were called “The Elements,” which is exactly where we began just now to look at geometry.
Perhaps, as parents of inquiring young minds, when you are out and notice something of geometrical interest, you could pause and direct the naturally curious focus of your child toward it. Not in an intellectual way, mind you—and no comments yet about Euclid, save that for middle school and beyond—but in an emotionally appreciative, curious way. After all, falling in love with the beauty and wonder of geometry is the exact foundation we want to develop in our students. We want them to be passionately curious. And if they develop an intellectual understanding along the way, well, that isn’t a bad thing either. As teachers, we simply want our students to love geometry and mathematics as zealously as we do.