Shoulders of Giants
copyright 2012 by Tim Griffin

Aristotle said the world is a ball
Unrolled a scroll and made a map of it all
He put the planets in the sky, moving round the Earth every day

Copernicus drew a very different one
Pictured all the planets going ‘round the Sun
Then Galileo built a telescope and said, “Hey, it sure looks that way.”

(chorus) You know that each generation learns a little bit more
Pulling back the curtain, opening up the door
But it’s only when we’re standing on the shoulders of giants
We can see the things we didn’t before

Kepler said it had to run on rational rules
Tried to work it out with geometrical tools
He gave us orbital mechanics but he couldn’t figure why it should be

Newton knew the secret when he saw an apple fall
Said there had to be one force to rule them all
He gave us three laws of motion and one more just for gravity

(repeat chorus)

(bridge) Each generation finding new ways to question
How the pieces of the universe go
Each new breakthrough’s just a part of the progression
And how far it’ll go, I don’t know

You know we’re always redefining and refining the rules
That doesn’t mean our predecessors were fools
It’s like the pieces of a puzzle that they handed on to you and me

Maybe in another hundred years or two
People then may laugh at all we thought we knew
But they’ll be standing on our shoulders when they brag about how far they can see

(repeat chorus)

Hershel and Hubble, Einstein and Bohr
Pulling back the curtain, opening up the door
But it’s only when we’re standing on the shoulders of giants
We can see the things we didn’t before…

…and Aristotle said the world is a ball.

Shoulders of Giants (demo)


Isaac Newton wasn’t the first to say it, but he probably said it best: when asked how he had cracked the secrets of the universe where so many before him had got it wrong, he observed that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This song is not really intended for direct instruction of Newton's laws etc. (we have other songs for that), but rather to emphasize the often-overlooked concept that scientists rely on models to help them understand and predict phenomena, and that over time we change our models as new data become available.

Here are some content standards from the NGSS addressed by this song:

First Grade
1-ESS1-1. Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. CC: Patterns in the natural world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence.

Third Grade
3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the
motion of an object.
3-PS2-2. Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to
predict future motion.

Fifth Grade
5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

Middle School
MS-PS2-2. Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the
forces on the object and the mass of the object.
MS-PS2-4. Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are
attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects.
MS-PS2-5. Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between
objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact.

High School
This song does not directly address physics at the high-school level, but may be used to introduce the topic; or to spark a discussion about how we create and modify scientific models over time.

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