Although not a traditional experimental "method," mathematical modeling can provide a powerful approach for investigating complex cell signaling networks, such as those that regulate the eukaryotic cell division cycle. We describe here one modeling approach based on expressing the rates of biochemical reactions in terms of nonlinear ordinary differential equations. We discuss the steps and challenges in assigning numerical values to model parameters and the importance of experimental testing of a mathematical model. We illustrate this approach throughout with the simple and well-characterized example of mitotic cell cycles in frog egg extracts. To facilitate new modeling efforts, we describe several publicly available modeling environments, each with a collection of integrated programs for mathematical modeling. This review is intended to justify the place of mathematical modeling as a standard method for studying molecular regulatory networks and to guide the non-expert to initiate modeling projects in order to gain a systems-level perspective for complex control systems.