People normally don’t think of math teachers as being prolific inventors but that is exactly what one teacher from Woodstock, New York considers himself. Andrew Parke, a former math teacher who recently turned 80, had big plans when he was young to become an engineer. He says that he couldn’t quite wrap his head around the concepts in calculus and believed there wasn’t enough of a “people” element to engineering. That is when he decided he would rather teach mathematics than pursue engineering as a career.
Throughout his career of nearly 40 years as an elementary school math teacher, Parke created hundreds of inventions that he developed based on the mathematical theorems and concepts that he taught his students.
He has used spare parts and trinkets from toy kits and a variety of other miscellaneous items he either ordered from hobby companies or found around his home to create things like models of expansive DNA molecules and gear-enabled contraptions that fold into several different geometric shapes that his students always loved studying.
Parke says that they were always fascinated by his “inventions”, so much so that he would use them as incentive for them to complete their math homework. He would tell students that they could spend the next class period tinkering with some of his new creations as long as they finished their math problems first. He says that always motivated them to get their work done.
Parke’s collection of contraptions fills about 50 decent sized boxes in the basement of his home. They remind visitors of MC Escher images or optical illusions and have become so iconic over the years that they will now be featured at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum this month.
Parke moved from New York to Illinois in 2005, and incredibly, most of his creations stayed behind. But what he brought with him to the Midwest is enough to make for a fascinating display at the museum and is sure to please visitors of all ages.