Standing on the shoulders of giants
To reflect on the achivements of Sir Isaac Newton and appreciate the value of humility.
by Helen Lycitt
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To reflect the achievements of Sir Isaac Newton and appreciate the value of humility.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a £2 coin, an apple and a either a glass prism or a telescope (which you should hopefully be able to borrow from the science department).
- Introduce the assembly by showing the audience a £2 coin, an apple and a glass prism or telescope. Say that these three objects have something in common. Ask if anyone knows what that is.
- (Assuming no one guesses correctly) Tell the audience that all three objects are connected to one of the best known scientists and mathematicians of all time: Sir Isaac Newton.
- Comment that Sir Isaac Newton was a gifted scientist and mathematician and he was also a Christian.
- Say that Newton is probably best remembered for his explanation of the laws of gravity. His interest was stimulated when, sitting in a garden, he saw an apple fall to the ground. (Hold up the apple.) ‘Why did it fall in a straight line to the ground?’ he asked himself.
- The answer, he decided, must be that the earth pulled the apple to itself. He put his theory to good use in astronomy and space as well. Gravity would explain why the moon was held on its course round the earth: it was a combination of the speed of the moon and gravity.
- It was Newton, too, who, in 1668, built the first reflecting telescope. By using a mirror to reflect the image of the stars, it was possible to see far more than with the ordinary optical telescope.
- These are only two of Newton’s discoveries which were of value to astronomy. He also discovered how white light can be divided into the colours of the spectrum as seen in a rainbow.
- Ask if anyone knows where the £2 coin fits in. After receiving some answers, ask someone on the front row to read what it says around the edge of the £2 coin: ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’.
- Say that Newton is often regarded as a genius, but despite his abilities, he was always ready to recognize his debt to those who had gone before and prepared the ground for his work. Say that these words were taken from a letter written by Isaac Newton to fellow scientist Robert Hooke in 1676, where he very modestly claimed that his success had been built on the achievement of others: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’.
- Of course, Newton didn’t mean that he had literally stood on giants’ shoulders! He actually meant that many scientists had done great work before him and he merely took their work further. He simply completed what they had started.
- Newton’s outlook is something we find suggested in the Bible: Read Philippians 2.2–4.
- Sir Isaac Newton died on 20th March 1727, at the age of 84, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
Time for reflection
Father, Thank you for letting us gaze at your wonderful creation and explore your handiwork.
Thank you for the secrets you share with scientists.
Help us to make the most of the opportunities you put before us.
Teach us to appreciate the accomplishments of others without envying their success,
To follow the example of leaders without looking down on their discoveries,
And to grow wise through reflection, experience and service.
Keep our hearts fresh and our minds open to the possibilities of growth through which you may choose to stretch us.
‘Song of Caedmon’ (Come and Praise, 13)