Rene Descartes: Mathematician & Philosopher


Rene Descartes was born on March 31, 1596. He’s considered the father of modern philosophy and he was an accomplished mathematician. I chose to feature Descartes because I thought it would be a perfect tie in to some fun math lessons.

rene descartesYou may best know his influence if you’ve ever graphed a line or a conic section! He developed the Cartesian coordinate system which allows you to place a point in space as a set of numbers- on the x and y axis. Sound familiar?

Dan often refers to Rene Descartes and the Cartesian graphing system when he teaches his programming classes at our homeschool co-op.

He is considered the father of analytical geometry- the bridge between algebra and geometry which ultimately gave way to calculus. I suppose I have him to thank for years of analytical geometry and calculus…deep breath…

Dan is famous for his dinner time discussions. This one was a graphing extravaganza- a younger E14 is quite engaged.

We’ve often had discussions over the years about graphing. E14 just finished Advanced Algebra and spent a good deal of time graphing conic sections- hyperbolas, parabolas, etc.

This is a book from my classroom teaching days. It’s full of great data sets for graphing and data analysis. Without thinking, I picked a set with both qualitative and quantitative data…no need for a Cartesian system in this case…
Tip: If you want to make a line graph, be sure to choose a data set with two sets of numbers…one set for the x axis and the other for the y axis! This would be the non-example!

Today I encouraged J7 to enter some data points into Excel so he could generate a graph. This was not a line graph data set, but we did talk about why it couldn’t be one- here he graphed the frequency of the letters of the alphabet in a selection of writing. E and T win the day!

bar graph
Using Excel to generate graphs- a welcome break from paper and pencil graphs now and then

Another tip, when you are teaching a concept in math, it’s a great idea for students to find out about the person behind the concept. What a great starting point for a math journal entry…explaining who the mathematician was and all about the concepts he discovered.


If you want to see what other birthdays iHN bloggers are celebrating, please visit Birthday Lessons in March.

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