Looking Over Galileo’s Shoulder In the Classical Christian Classroom ~ Ravi Jain

Parents and teachers often ask, “How do you teach science and math classically?” Today’s guest, Ravi Jain, is probably the most knowledgeable person to answer this question. As a science teacher and co-author of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, he offers theory and practical advice that every listener can incorporate right away in the classroom and lab. As a result, classical Christian students follow in the steps of the greatest scientists who ever lived.

GalileoRavi Jain graduated from Davidson College, earned an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary, and completed a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He has been teaching AP Calculus and AP Physics within an interdisciplinary narrative framework at the Geneva School since 2003. During this tenure he has sought to understand and champion the role of math and science in a Christian Classical curriculum. He coauthored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education with Kevin Clark which was published in 2013. Over the past seven years he has delivered more than 40 talks or workshops at schools and conferences and has recently started the website Recovering Nature to assist collaboration among natural science educators.

Looking Over Galileo’s Shoulder
In the Classical Christian Classroom
~ A Conversation with Ravi Jain

Estimated reading time: 3 min, 42 sec. (768 words)


All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
– Galileo Galilei

In 1581, Galileo’s curiosity got the best of him. Observing a swinging chandelier, he was surprised that it took the same amount of time to swing in a large arc as in a small arc.

Galileo went home and set up two pendulums of the same length but differing sweeps. Integrating math and physics, he found that the pendulums kept time together. One hundred years later, Galileo’s simple yet profound discovery led to Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens inventing the first accurate timekeeper.

Davies Owens, host of BaseCamp Live Podcast, decided to research how classical Christian schools can raise up thinkers like Galileo. Specifically, “How do we teach science and math classically?”

His recent podcast guest, Ravi Jain, an AP Physics and AP Calculus teacher and co-author of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Classical Christian Education, explains the difference between the classical approach to the sciences and the progressive model.

Start with a sense of discovery…an integration of all disciplines…and attention to detail.

The Classical Christian classroom follows the pattern of ancient scientific pedagogy

First, following Galileo’s example, the concept of “discovery” is instrumental to learning science.

In Jain’s AP science classes, “We are following the narrative of discovery. It’s not like I want them to invent all these things for themselves. We are looking over Galileo’s shoulder, we’re reading Galileo, reading Isaac Newton, reading Pascal. We are trying to understand what they did. We set them on the same problems these guys worked on and help them learn how to learn and how to conjecture and prove. The goal is to learn how to think.”

Like Galileo who puzzled over the chandelier, students ”can’t prove these things unless they first puzzle to the answer…this is the pattern of ancient pedagogy.”

Unfortunately, modern science has largely been reduced to the study of facts and figures, like memorizing the Periodic Table. Progressivism has even “eliminated the need for us to observe nature and see her categories at all,” laments Ravi.

Integration of all disciplines leads to wonder

Secondly, when all subjects overlap and integrate, wonder and curiosity are imbedded back into the classroom. Traditional schools keep subjects separate, but not classical Christian schools.

When science, math, theology and the humanities are connected, classical students consider how everything points to Christ and that Christ holds all things together. In fact, belief that God created the world was the foundation of all learning for classical scientists.

“As students move away from fixed linear learning in the sciences and math and actually begin to wonder and see the creative world the Lord has made, it actually points them back to the logos of Christ, which is back to how science and math is forming students, forming us.”

Enhancing students’ power of observation

Third, Jain enhances the observation skills of his 9-12 grade students by implementing 17-century practices. Students use sketchbooks, or what he refers to as a “Register of Effects.”

Coming alongside nature, observing it “in the raw”, and recording impressions leads to a greater depth of understanding for students.

“One of my students has done some water color observations of the night sky with beautiful dark background and another kind of ink for the stars. When you do that, you’ll never look at the night sky in the same way again, because you see it now in greater depth of understanding with the science behind it and the wonder and beauty of it.”

Owens notes that most students stop sketching after grammar school, robbing high schoolers from paying attention to detail, color and dimension.

Key Takeaway

Looking back at the rediscovery of classical Christian education in the mid to late 20th century, the emphasis was on recapturing literature, history, language, philosophy and theology.

Thankfully, teachers like Ravi Jain have resurrected and defined the classical approach to science and mathematics, based on the models of the greatest scientists and teachers in the Western world.

Now classical students follow in the Galileo’s footsteps by imitating his example in the areas of discovery, integration and observation.

To hear more insights from Ravi Jain about how to teach science from a classical perspective, tune in to the episode on BaseCamp Live. The 2nd edition of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Classical Christian Education will be published soon and will touch on more of this topic.