Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Harrison Straley

Harrison Straley

Teaching Associate in Mathematics/Computer Science

ED.D., University of Virginia
M.A.T., Emory University
B.S., University of Richmond

Main Interests

My main interests are mathematics history and discovery teaching. Currently I am involved in a project to create a discovery oriented high school geometry course. Also, I am lead researcher in a project to investigate the use of "pair quizzes" as a teaching and evaluation tool. I often perform a one person play on the life and times of Isaac Newton, entitled "Isaac Newton, A Dramatic Lecture".

Research Interests

The focus of my recent scholarly endeavors has been on mathematics education and mathematics history. I am very interested in practical ways to improve school mathematics instruction at all levels. My interests focus on ways to improve a teacher's mathematics knowledge and ability to do mathematics, as well as motivate students to be more interested in mathematics. It has been my experience that mathematics history and drama can motivate students to learn and enjoy mathematics. For those reasons I have co-authored two plays "The Discovery of the Calculus; Wilhelm Leibniz versus Isaac Newton" and "Isaac Newton, A Dramatic Lecture". I am currently working on a series of articles on the history or multiplication algorithms from 6000 BC to the present as well as a new play "Wilhelm Leibniz, A Dramatic Lecture".

My interest in PK-12 education has led me to recently become quite interested in how to best finance our public schools. I also serve as a consultant to the Massachusetts Department of Education on K-12 mathematics education.

Currently Lauren Dupee '10 and I are researching the use of "pair quizzes" in college mathematics classes. Our preliminary report was recently presented at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Washington.

Teaching Interests

The primary objective of education is to teach students "how to learn". I do not believe content X is nearly as important as learning how to learn content X. It would be presumptuous of me to claim that a student will need to use "mathematics topic X" twenty years from now, however, I do believe that some student will need to learn some mathematics to better serve her/his community and her/his family. Hence, it behooves me to teach students how to learn mathematics.

Human beings have progressed over the ages by examining specific phenomena and then generalizing from these circumstances. Learning is a "doing" activity and I believe the teacher's responsibility is to provide the environment where the student is encouraged to discover ideas. Hence it is common for my students to work in small groups on both assignments and on major projects. My classes are less about my talking than they are about my students doing and sharing.

Other Interests

My wife and I have seven children, nine grand children, and one great grand child. In my personal life I am an avid tennis player, having won two National Doubles Titles, one in the United States and the other in Australia. Of course, I no longer play at that level, but I do volunteer one day a week to work with the Wheaton College Tennis Teams. For four years my wife and I lived in a motor home traveling throughout North America and we still maintain a serious interest in travel and in RVing. We are active in Democratic Party Politics, serving on the Mansfield Democratic Town Committee and as delegates to Massachusetts State Democratic Conventions. I am active in my professional organizations: having served as Associate Director of the United States Mathematics Olympiad Summer Program, Executive Board Member of the Hi School Mathematical Modeling Competitions, and as an organizer for the Mathematical Association of America on "Getting Students to Discuss and to Write about Mathematics".

Selected Publications, Creative Work, or Performances

"Isaac Newton, A Dramatic Lecture', Engineers Week 2009, February 8, 2009, Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, Tewksbury, MA.

≥Pair √Quizzes: An Instructional and an Evaluative Tool in Mathematics Classes. Preliminary Report.≈ MAA Joint Mathematics Meetings, Washington DC, Jan 7, 2009

"Pancakes and DNA", with Prof. Shelly Leibowitz, ATMNE Conference, November, 7, 2008, Portland, ME.

"A Creative Way for High Schools to Serve Post AP Mathematics Students" , MAA Joint Mathematics Meetings, San Diego, CA, Jan 6, 2008

"An Interview with Sir Isaac Newton", Math Horizons, November, 2007

"Edible Pancakes, The Relationship Between Pancakes and DNA", ATMNE Conference, November, 9, 2007, Springfield, Mass.

"Whose Best, An Application of Graph Theory", Discrete Mathematics Matters: It Applies to all Students K - 12 Conference, March 3, 2007.

"Mathematical Modeling in High School", ATMIN Spring Conference, March 16, 2006.

"The Unholy Alliance: Integrating Math and Religion, Preliminary Report", with Barbara Darling-Smith, Wheaton College, MAA Joint Mathematics Meetings, January 15, 2006

Student Projects

Student projects are a part of all of my classes. Students are expected to form groups of 3 or 4 students and produce a paper on some topic related to the course. In a statistics course the students might research the relationship between political affiliation and a student's home demography. In a mathematics class the students might analyze a particular function and make conjectures and prove related theorems. The students then prepare a poster and present their topic to the entire class. In calculus or math education classes one of the choices is for a group of 5 to 7 students to produce the play "The Discovery of the Calculus: Wilhelm Leibniz versus Isaac Newton". The students take the original script and modify it to add "in jokes" and other humor without changing the basic facts of this monumental discovery. Several hundred student productions of this play have occurred during the past ten or so years at colleges and universities throughout the United States and beyond.

Prior to coming to Wheaton, I spent over thirty years teaching high school mathematics where my students wrote hundreds of mathematics research papers which were accepted for presentation in state competitions. Obviously, I believe in projects and in students publicly demonstrating their knowledge and their ideas. Its fun and you learn by doing!