Donald Barry Balances Philosophy, History and Math in His Andover Curriculum

Donald Barry, Instructor in Mathematics, narrates a tale of a famous Egyptian mathematician’s discovery to his classes and connects a modern lesson’s material to its ancient origins. Although he has worked in Phillips Academy’s Math Department for 32 years, Barry originally aspired to become a minister and attended Yale Divinity School before deciding to devote his career to mathematics. Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Barry attended a local high school and then graduated from Carleton College with a major in philosophy. He attended the Yale Divinity School on a Rockefeller Scholarship. During his time at Yale, Barry met his wife Roxanne Barry, Director of Summer Opportunities, and the pair married a year later. Roxanne Barry grew up as the daughter of two American teachers in Turkey, so the Barrys decided to teach in Turkey at Tarsus Amerikan Lisesi, a high school for Turkish boys, and Robert College, another high school in Istanbul, Turkey from 1973 to 1980. According to Barry, there weren’t any jobs available for ministers in Turkey at the time, so he attended night school and summer school for a certification in mathematics, a subject for which he had always had a passion. Barry said that his interest in math grew at a North South Foundation (NSF)-sponsored math program the summer after his 11th grade year. “I met some tremendous math students from the New York/New Jersey area. I was surprised to see how creative they were. I was good at the mechanics of math, but I had never imagined that one could be all that creative in math. When I asked them how they got to be so creative, they all had the same answer—math contests,” Barry wrote in an e-mail to the The Phillipian. Barry began writing math contest questions for his Turkish students and then for state and regional contests in New England. He eventually became the head author of American Region Mathematics League (ARML) from 1995 to 2008. Barry said, “I really enjoyed the challenge of developing interesting problems that would help the students experience their own creativity. It takes a lot of time, I end up in lots of dead-ends, but every so often I come up with a problem that gives me great pleasure to have created. ” Patrick Farrell, Instructor and Chair in Mathematics, said, “Mr. Barry is far and away the best question writer in the department and literally one of the best in the nation.” According to Barry, working at Andover has allowed him to more fully explore the history and applications of mathematics. Since joining the Andover Math Department in 1980, Barry created the Andover Invitational Math Contest and co-founded the Model United Nations club at Phillips Academy. He has served as faculty advisor to the math club for 20 years and served as an advisor to Model UN for a large part of his tenure. Barry has also written over 250 pages of a book on the early history of the Pythagorean Theorem in ancient civilizations. Although it is unfinished, Barry said that he draws on his manuscript constantly in his classes to supplement the curriculum. Barry added that it emphasizes both problem solving and problem posing when teaching his classes. “I’d love my students to come away from my classes knowing that they are competent in mathematics and that they are so confident in their abilities that they never close a door on opportunities in college because they are afraid of the math,” said Barry in an e-mail to The Phillipian. One student, Isaac Opper ’06, stands out in Barry’s long history at Andover because of Opper’s remarkable discovery of 15 previously special right triangles. As a Junior, Opper showed his ideas to Barry, and the two presented Opper’s findings to the Association to Teachers of Mathematics in New England in 2004. Barry has also been involved outside of the classroom as a coach and house counselor. He has coached Varsity and JV golf, JV2 Boys Basketball, both Boys and Girls Cross Country and speedball, a sport similar to Ultimate Frisbee. He and his wife were also house counselors in Taylor Hall in West Quad South.