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16 January 2019
Jo is a secondary maths teacher and an award-winning maths blogger. Her site www.resourceaholic.com is an extremely popular source of ideas and lesson resources for mathematics teachers. She is currently a member of the TES Maths Panel and AQA Expert Panel and is a trustee of the Mathematical Association.
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
I've always been a fan of puzzles and logic. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the floor at my granddad's house every Saturday afternoon playing peg solitaire over and over again. When I was a bit older, my mum would buy me puzzle books full of logic problems. I still do a fair bit of that now – on a long journey I often choose to complete puzzles like Kakuro, Sudoku and Bridges rather than read a book.
When I was eight my family moved to Botswana, and the ten years that followed was a very turbulent time in my life. I went to five very different types of school. My only memory of doing maths at primary school comes from when I was at an international school in Africa. I had a very traditional teacher who sat at his desk and read out endless mental maths questions.
I remember more about my maths lessons at secondary school back in England. Maths was my favourite subject, but I think that was just because I was good at it, not because it excited or intrigued me at the time. I represented my school in a local maths competition in Year 10 and remember really disliking an activity in which we had to make as many different triangles as we could using elastic bands on a peg board. It wasn't my preferred kind of maths activity then – and it still isn't now!
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
Over the last ten years secondary maths teachers have seen a lot of changes to curriculum and assessment at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. At the same time we have faced ever-increasing challenges in the recruitment and retention of maths teachers. This challenging period has required teachers to rally together to support each other, and thankfully online platforms – plus a growing market for affordable and accessible CPD – have allowed us to do that. Social media has also enabled teachers to collaborate more widely than ever before. The vibrant and growing online maths community, for me, is the most positive and encouraging change in maths education in recent years.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
I'm always flabbergasted by the hilarious and amazing things that my students say! Teenagers are incredibly challenging to work with but also – in many ways – an absolute delight.
Some of the best moments in teaching happen when you go through a question on the board and someone unexpectedly puts up their hand and offers a much more elegant solution that you hadn't thought of. Genius.
4. Do you practice mathematics differently in company?
Give me a problem – mathematical or otherwise – and I need to step back and think about it on my own. I'm a fairly social person at times, but definitely a solitary thinker. And a slow thinker. It upsets me when a maths problem is presented at a conference and those around me do it really quickly before I've had time to gather my thoughts. Unintentionally, mathematicians can be very intimidating, even to other mathematicians.
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
I think there are some natural qualities that can help a teacher have a certain appeal to students – and I definitely don't have those qualities! I'm not a natural teacher – it’s just not in my personality. But although I'll probably never be described as 'brilliant', with experience and lots of hard work, I can be a very good teacher.
I used to work in banking and was pretty happy in that career – becoming a teacher was a huge gamble because it's way out of my comfort zone. I knew it would be a challenge, and that's partly why I did it. I believe that the science of teaching can be learnt, and I'm doing everything I can to learn it. I may never be anyone's 'favourite teacher' but that's ok. I'll leave that accolade to the natural-born teachers amongst us... :)
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
The MathsJam annual gathering is my favourite mathematical thing to do. I've been twice now and absolutely love it. It's for everyone and anyone who enjoys maths. The whole weekend is the geekiest fun ever, and the highlight for me is the MathsJamJam where everyone sits round and sings songs with maths-y lyrics. Highly recommended! I love it when communities come together like this.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
"What are a ballerina's favourite coordinates?"
This is the one joke that I tell my pupils every year! I like it because I'm normally rubbish at telling jokes but you can't really go wrong with this one!
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