A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on organization. Now, slowly but surely, I’ve been organizing my office. The first weekend after the workshop, I tackled all my math notes by organizing them into sets. This organization process reminded me of something I wanted to share here with you all.
As a student, I always used to struggle when my math book began talking about counting numbers, whole numbers, real numbers, irrational numbers, and other number groups. Who determined that these numbers were real numbers, while these other numbers were irrational ones? And what did it matter?
After I began to grasp the biblical worldview in math, I went back and looked at these different number groups and discovered that they, too, were really useful ways of recording God’s creation!
Whole numbers, real numbers, etc., are just fancy names we gives to numbers with certain characteristics. Just like Adam used names to describe the animals, we use these names to describe and sort the quantities God placed around us. Now, we could have used different names. We could have used whole numbers to refer to numbers with different characteristics. These names in themselves are not absolutes; they’re just names that we’ve adopted to help us easily refer to different types of numbers.
Referring to different types of numbers comes in handy. There’s no way any human being could ever remember every single number that can’t be divided by two. But if we refer to all these numbers as odd numbers and learn the characteristics of odd numbers, then we’ll be able to recognize whether or not a number can be divided by two fairly easily. We group numbers into sets because we can’t memorize or keep track of every single number and its properties–only God can do that!
One way you could help your child really see number sets as a way of sorting quantities is to have him organize his closet/bedroom. As you help your child organize his room you could teach math! Tell your child about how, when organizing, we sort objects based on their properties. Have him sort things in his room. For example, we might sort clothes by color (red shirts will go in this drawer, blue shirts in this one, etc.) or by type (long sleeve shirts go in this drawer, short sleeve shirts go in this one, etc.).
Explain to your child that, just like we put like things together to organize, mathematicians have organized numbers based on their properties. Whole numbers, real numbers, etc., all have properties that make them different and unique. We can therefore put them in different “sets”—the mathematical name used to refer to the different “piles” used to organize numbers. Having these “piles” or sets helps us easily refer to numbers with specific attributes, much like the name “long sleeve shirt” helps us easily refer to a certain type of shirt.
There are also a lot of household chores that you can use to teach the concept of sets to your children. Setting the table, folding the wash (by child or by item), or even, putting away the groceries (canned goods, refrigerator goods, freezer goods, etc). Just think–your math class can actually help you get caught up on your housework this week! More importantly, it can help your child see each aspect of math–even number groups/sets–as a way of sorting/recording God’s creation.