Print Friendly, PDF & Email


SUBJECTS — Biography; Science-Technology; World/England & the Enlightenment; Mathematics;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Talent;


AGE: 8-13; MPAA Rating – G;

Drama; 1998; 51 minutes; Color.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.


This movie combines the story of Isaac Newton with that of a fictional assistant who must leave the girl he loves to accompany Newton to Cambridge University. “Newton: A Tale of Two Isaacs” is one of the “Inventors’ Specials,” an award-winning series of films designed to introduce children to great scientists and inventors.


Selected Awards: 1998 KIDS FIRST! Endorsement from the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media; 1998 Hollywood Reporter YOUNGSTAR AWARD nomination for Tyrone Savage; Winner of a 1998 Parents’ Choice Recommendation.

Featured Actors: Karl Pruner; Tyrone Savage; Kris Lemche, Lisa Jacob.

Director: Don McBrearty.


This film will introduce children to Isaac Newton, his discoveries and his time.


MODERATE. Isaac Newton was not a man who needed a shield from everyday life. After the period of his scientific discoveries, Newton was an active public servant, elected to Parliament and appointed to be Master of the Royal Mint. We question the accuracy of this film’s presentation of Newton as an absent-minded professor type.


Tell your children that the way that we look at our world was shaped by Isaac Newton. With his three laws of motion, Newton explained how and why objects move the way they do.

  • inertia: an object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will move in a straight line at the same speed unless acted upon by a force;
  • the change in the speed or direction of an object is: in the same direction as the force exerted; directly proportional to the net force exerted; and inversely proportional to the object’s mass; and
  • for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

It was not until Einstein published his theory of relativity, some 200 years later, that scientists came up with new laws of motion that take account of differences too small to affect everyday life. But Newton’s three laws are still used to describe the observable actions of objects in our world.

Newton was the first to accurately describe gravity as being a force of attraction exerted by large objects on small objects. People knew that things fell toward the earth but they didn’t know why. Newton was the first to apply the laws of motion and gravity to outer space. People had no idea why the moon stayed near the earth but didn’t come crashing down onto the earth. Newton showed them why. (It has a forward movement but it is pulled to the earth by gravity. An orbit around the earth takes into account both forces.) People had no idea why the planets circled the sun. (Also gravity and forward momentum.)

Newton made many other discoveries some of which are described in the Helpful Background section. If your children are interested, go over them.


Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) was probably the greatest scientist who ever lived. He formulated the law of gravity and gave it a precise mathematical definition. He set out the three laws of motion and discovered the laws of thermodynamics. Newton formulated the laws of optics. He also invented differential and integral calculus and made the first reflecting telescope.

Newton developed the first coherent analysis of motion and made it clear that the movement of bodies in the heavens could be understood in the same terms as the movement of objects on earth. Newton’s three laws of motion are set out below.

I. A body continues in a state of rest, or in motion with a constant velocity, unless compelled to change by the application of an external force. [This is the concept of “inertia”. It has been stated in other ways: every object moves in a straight line at the same speed unless acted upon by a force.]

II. The change in speed of an object is in the same direction as the force exerted, directly proportional to the net force exerted, and inversely proportional to the object’s mass. [Put another way: “The relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and an applied force F is F = ma.” An applied force is one that actually touches the object.]

III. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

For a graphic explanation of the laws of motion, see How Newton Built on Galileo’s Ideas.

In the famous story of the apple falling from the tree, Newton came up with the concept of “gravity” when he was sitting in his garden and saw an apple fall to the ground. (The apple did not fall on his head.) Gravity applies to all things and makes them fall perpendicularly to the ground. Newton knew that gravity applied everywhere on earth, from the lowest valley to the highest mountain. He wondered if the force could extend further than had been previously thought, perhaps as far as the moon? Perhaps the planets were subject to gravity from the sun? Newton then calculated the force needed to hold the Moon in its orbit, as compared with the force pulling an object to the ground.

The laws of thermodynamics are:

I. Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe or in a closed system remains constant, merely changing from one form to another. This is called the law of conservation of energy.

II. Heat will not flow from a cold to a hot object spontaneously; this principle can be stated in a number of different ways: systems will tend to go to equilibrium; in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the end state will always be less than the potential energy of the initial state (or to put it in reverse, the entropy of the end state will always be more than the entropy of the initial state, where entropy is the measure of the disorder of any system). An example is a watch powered by a spring. The potential energy in a watch is in the spring. As the energy in the spring is transferred to the wheels of the watch, the spring will not regain its energy and the watch will eventually run down unless some outside force acts upon the system to wind the spring. Another example is a living organism. Once the potential energy locked in carbohydrates is converted into kinetic energy (energy in use or motion), the organism will get no more carbohydrates until energy is input again, e.g., until the organism eats a cracker.

III. It is impossible, in a finite number of operations to produce a temperature of absolute zero. (Put another way: if all the thermal motion of molecules (kinetic energy) could be removed, a state called absolute zero would occur. Absolute zero results in a temperature of 0 degrees Kelvin or -273.15 degrees Celsius.) The Universe will attain absolute zero when all energy and all matter is randomly distributed across space. The current temperature of empty space in the Universe is about 2.7 degrees Kelvin.

All thermodynamic properties of matter can be understood in terms of the motion of atoms and molecules. For some interesting websites on this topic, see Entropy and the Laws of Thermodynamics; The MAD Scientist Network:Physics: Re: The Laws of Thermodynamics.

The calculus is a branch of mathematics that provides a method for describing the gradual change. For example, calculus will be used to determine the area circumscribed by a curved line, the acceleration of a body falling through space, the deceleration of a ball gradually stopping as it rolls across a plane; or the arc of an orbiting body, such as a planet. Most modern sciences use calculus.

Why were all these discoveries (and more) made by Isaac Newton? Why were they made in England? Why were they made in the late 17th century? While genius is original to the person it inhabits, we can isolate some of the factors that allowed Newton’s genius to flourish: (1) The first 25 years of Newton’s life were a time of political and intellectual revolution in England that led to the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the proclamation of a republic governed by parliament. Censorship broke down. Every area of thought, including religious expression and scientific inquiry, blossomed. Newton was born in an age when he could speak his mind. He was not forced to disguise his findings and recant like Galileo. Nor was he required to flee his country and go into exile as was Descartes. (2) “Newton was heir to a rich and dynamic mathematical-experimental tradition, deriving from the innovative work of Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Gilbert, and Boyle. And from France, the mechanical models of the universe constructed by Rene Descartes became well known to him.” (3) Newton also had the fortune of living in an age that produced many keen and penetrating minds. Scientists of England, “gifted men who in spite of their many differences, believed that a rational approach to knowledge held the greatest promise for those who would truly comprehend the acts of the Creator,” were a source from which Newton drew ideas. Great feats of science, like those in other fields such as art, music, literature, and politics are usually accomplished in an environment which influences, shapes and jump starts the young genius.

Newton and his contemporaries realized the special advantages that they enjoyed and the special circumstances that permitted the great scientific advances of their time to occur. As Newton himself said: “If I have seen further … it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. How does Einstein’s discovery that matter can be changed into energy (E=mc2) affect the Second Law of Thermodynamics?


3. The second law of thermodynamics states that energy is always being degraded from a higher and more organized form into a lower and less organized form. What is the role of life in this equation? As evolution progresses, doesn’t life become more complex? Why is it that physical things tend to degrade to equilibrium and disorder while life tends to create complexity and order? What is the role of photosynthesis, which converts the energy of sunlight into carbohydrates, creating the energy necessary for a biological system to run. (In the example of the watch spring, photosynthesis is the first step in the process that creates the energy that powers the hand that winds the spring after it has run down.)


4. How do you reconcile the law of falling bodies (that all objects fall to earth at the same speed despite their weight) with the Second Law of Motion which states that the acceleration of a body subjected to an applied force is inversely proportional to its mass?


5. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further … it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” One of the giants that he was referring to was Galileo. (Newton was born the year that Galileo died.) Copernicus and Kepler were others. What does this statement say to us about scientific discoveries and human achievement in general?



1. Both of the female characters in this film wanted to get married; one wanted to marry Humphrey and the other wanted to marry Isaac. Describe the different ways in which they approached their goal. Who was more successful?

Suggested Response:

Once these questions have been answered, ask if it is right to manipulate people that you love. For example, is it ethical to manipulate someone you love so that they will love you? Is it wrong for a parent to manipulate a child so that the child will make better grades in school or stop going around with other kids that will be a bad influence?



2. How did science serve the Newton character in the film as a shield against the challenges of everyday life?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


1. Analyze the actions of any major character in the film applying two tests which any ethical action must pass: (1) The Golden Rule (Would the person taking the action want to be treated the same way? or to put it another way “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”) and (2) universality (Would there be a positive effect on society if everyone acted the same way in a similar situation?).


2. The plots of most films turn on one or more ethical choices which must be made by the characters in the movie. Which of The Six Pillars of Character, if any, are involved in the plot of this film? Tell us whether the ethical decisions made by the characters complied with the standards set out in the Six Pillars. Justify your opinion.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)



(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)



(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)


See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


Compare the changes brought about by the following events with the changes brought about by Newton’s discoveries in terms of (a) the way people look at the world and (b) the way that people live:

  • The printing press;
  • The American Revolution;
  • The invention of the computer from the beginning through the invention of the Internet;
  • The invention of the wheel;
  • The invention of language;
  • The steam engine;
  • Galileo’s work with the telescope and on laws of descending bodies;
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity;
  • Columbus’ voyage and the discovery of the New World; and
  • The airplane.

Compare each of these events.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide: In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and his Time by Gale E. Christianson, The Free Press, New York, 1984 (quotations and much of the last paragraph of the Helpful Background Section are taken from pages 26 and 27).

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 17, 2009. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Search Lesson Plans for Movies

Get our FREE Newsletter!

* we respect your privacy. no spam here!

Follow us on social media!