What was the purpose of the grant?
My proposal was centered upon studying the origins of calculus, which is the class that I teach here. Calculus is kind of a new branch of math. Sometimes when you think about math, you think of algebra and geometry. Those are thousands of years old, but calculus is only about 400 years old, so it’s relatively new. The history with it all lies in Europe instead of some of the ancient world, so I thought it would be really cool to go and basically walk in the footsteps of the founding fathers of calculus, which would be Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
Newton was an Englishman who stumbled upon calculus because he was sequestered where he grew up because of the outbreak of the plague coming back in the late 1600’s. While he was discovering it in England, at the same time this German mathematician went to France to tell King Louis to not invade the rest of Germany because of religious differences, and while he was just waiting for King Louis’s answer, he discovered calculus in some apartment in Paris, and they did this simultaneously without each other knowing.
The plan is to actually go to England and follow in the footsteps of Isaac Newton. I would actually go from London to where his manor is, Woolsthorpe Manor, and it’s pretty much untouched from the late 1600s. The entire estate is run by the government of England, and you can still kind of see some of his experiments laid out from the late 1600s. [There’s] a guestbook that has Albert Einstein’s name. It’s open to that page. They put a glass case over it, and said, ‘We’re not going to touch that anymore.’ That will be kind of neat. Then, I’m going to be going to Paris, France to see some of the places and locales where this German mathematician happened to be when he made his discoveries, and afterwards, I’m going to go to Switzerland and Italy to kind of do some extra research on other mathematicians that had some contributions to calculus. That has been an additional piece to my award because of scheduling the trip, it just was cheaper to go down there at that particular time, so it was not in my original proposal, but they’re cool with that.
When and why did you decide to apply for the grant?
Avon has got such a rich tradition with teachers across the corporation who have been very successful in applying for the grant. It’s a grant that’s been around for several years. They give 100 of them every year to teachers across Indiana, and the purpose of the grant is just to kind of renew yourself after you’ve been teaching for a long time. It’s Lily’s way of saying, ‘hey, thanks for being a good teacher, and we’re going to let you take this wonderful trip and let you grow in other ways.’ We’ve had several other teachers win the grant, and that was sort of motivating and inspiring for me. I had wanted to do this earlier, but I’ve had young kids. I didn’t want to go away and leave them or go on a trip with them while they were young, but now they’re at the age where they can travel with me, so I kind of waited until now to do it. Pretty much, I wrote [the proposal] up over the entire summer. I read a couple of books and I did a lot of research, and it took about three months to put it all together.
How did you come up with this concept?
Calculus is one of the things in this world, one of the many things that I just absolutely love. I love teaching it, I love seeing the students finally realize why it was important for them to learn this algebra, geometry, and trigonometry because it all comes together in this thing called calculus that explains a lot of things in the real world. I do a lot of fun things with these kids. Like, I give them [wrist]bands at the beginning of the year as soon as they answer a question in my class, and I told the kids, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could take these to England one day and rub them on Isaac Newton’s grave? That would be pretty cool.’ Well, I actually get to do that now, as long as I don’t get arrested. I think it gets my students kind of fired up, knowing that I have that connection to the beginning of Calculus, the origins of calculus, and then I can share it with them.
What classes do you teach?
I teach AP Calculus A/B, and I teach AP Calculus B/C. The Calculus A/B is kind of like first semester college calculus and Calculus B/C is second semester.
How do you believe this is going to benefit your classes and teaching?
Well, I think I’m going to be able to definitely show the kids a lot of interesting pictures intermixed with my notes and some of my lessons, and some of these pictures are so vivid that they are right at the root of calculus. They’re going to see this room where so many of the concepts they are studying are developed in this man’s mind for the very first time, so I think it will kind of make calculus come alive to an extent and not be some cold concept that just comes out of a textbook, but it will be something that really does have a place in the history of the world.
Q&A and Photo by Claire Rightley