MathJax

02 March 2013

His contribution to the world, WinPlot

http://math.exeter.edu/rparris/images/wpspcover.jpg





Richard Parris, someone who made a difference

As educators, we have a list of colleagues we admire, ones we know from experience make a difference.  Your list probably includes some teachers from your school and maybe from your school district. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend many professional opportunities, that list includes some people you see only occasionally. And we may admire ones we know only from blog posts or tweets. For me, Rick Parris was in that last category.


Peanut Software

I first encountered Mr. Parris when, in the early 1990's, I was looking for a way to include digitally-drawn mathematical functions in tests and quizzes for a calculus class. I came across WinPlot. It had the nice compromise between small program size and ease of use, and number of features. It became a favorite tool when I was finishing up my graduate work and teaching as an adjunct at a local college, looking to impress the "real" professors. 



When I started my present job, I brought that tool with me, using it when I taught calculus and trigonometry classes. I noticed that Parris listened to feedback from users and made frequent updates. At one time, I wanted to create graphs where the axes are scaled in multiples of pi. So, with a few emails and a couple of weeks, that feature was added. Try doing that with a suggestion for a MicroSoft product. I wrote about using the program in an earlier post.

What is done regularly, is expected

I got used to the regular attention that Mr. Parris paid to WinPlot. I would check every so often to get the newest update. Recently, I noticed that he hadn't updated the program for a while. With a little bit of searching, I found that he has passed away. My heart sank. Someone who created a tool to help students, then noticed that fellow teachers could use it, then made the time over many years to make many changes that others wanted, is no longer with us. He will no longer be able to make WinPlot better. The education world is richer because he cared and poorer now because he is gone.
  

Addendum

I recently contacted a friend of mine who is now at Phillips Exeter where Rick Parris taught. There are no plans for anyone at Phillips Ex to continue with WinPlot or any of the other programs Parris wrote. I do not know how long they will be available (my guess is that the school's IT department will deactivate his account this summer). Even if you have no need now, you will want to download and try his programs here. There is much educational value here. You will find he will help you in your teaching mission.


Update

It has been a year since the death of Mr. Parris and the website is still active. I hope Phillips Ex keeps it going as a tribute to his life. 


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