Do professors have
a sense of humor? Listen to Calvin professor Robert Keeley (left) describe
the writing of his latest textbook.
“Sitting in an
office with no windows all summer writing a math book is not as much
fun as it sounds,” he says with a wry smile.
Which is why it's
no surprise that the precalculus textbook Keeley wrote during that summer
of 1997 (with Hope professors Todd Swanson and Janet Anderson) is filled
with reallife examples and, yes, even humor, despite the humorless
title “Precalculus: A Study of Functions and Their Applications.”
The new text’s
point of departure from other precalculus books is its treatment of
mathematical functions.
“We didn’t want
series of disconnected functions,” said Keeley.
“Precalculus: A
Study of Functions and Their Applications” begins by explaining all
of the basic functions and their relationships to each another. Once
the students have these functions on their mathematical palettes, they
are free to play and have fun with the material  an attitude that
the authors hope will be felt by the students who use the book.
“We wanted a text,"
says Keeley, "that students could actually read.”
The real hook,
though, is the text’s truetolife study problems. For instance, they
used Swanson’s actual utility bills for certain problems and utilized
linear function to find the dimensions of a lifesized Barbie doll 
focusing on the head and feet, of course.
The book was based
on a previous awardwinning workbook, published in 1997, called “Projects
for Precalculus.” Anderson, Keeley and Swanson wrote the 1997 text after
receiving a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Projects for Precalculus”
went on to win an award at the Innovative Programs Using Technology
competition and also earned a feature “Exemplary Programs in Introductory
College Mathematics,” published by the Mathematical Association of America.
Harcourt College
Publishers then approached the team about expanding their effort into
a fullsized text, which led to marathon writing sessions to complete
a much larger book in less time than it took to write the original shorter
“Projects for Precalculus.” Keeley refers to their latest work as “how
I spent my vacations for the last two years.”
Keeley dabbles
in both music and drama in addition to teaching courses in educational
psychology and the teaching of religion in elementary schools as a member
of the Calvin Education Department. He wrote two
Christmas plays for children with his wife. The plays are meant to teach
kids about Christmas is a way that is lighthearted but also gives them
(and adults) something to think about. Keeley plays guitar and leads
worship in his church in Holland and, occasionally, for Calvin’s Chapel
services.
Before coming to
Calvin he taught middle and high school math for 20 years, most recently
at Holland Christian High School. In
fact, it was his teaching at Holland Christian which led to his 1991
meeting with the two Hope professors. They formed a team that has now
published two innovative works together and has plans for a third.
