Mathematics teacher Holly Millican recognised with national award

Mathematics teacher Holly Millican is a familiar face at Teacher. Since 2019, she’s been sharing learning activities she uses in her classroom in videos on our YouTube channel.

Last month, Millican was announced as a recipient of a new Commonwealth Bank Early Career Teacher award. The award, presented in partnership with Australian charity Schools Plus, recognises teachers in their first 5 years of their career, and includes participation in a 12-month professional learning and mentoring program.

Millican is in her fifth year of teaching and has been a Mathematics teacher at South Grafton High School since 2019. Located in regional New South Wales, South Grafton High School is considered a low socioeconomic school. Many students live rurally and 26% of students are Indigenous Australians.

In her 3 years at the school, Millican has helped develop and implement initiatives aimed at increasing student engagement in learning, which have seen her recognised with this award. ‘I've hit a fair few of my goals in the last few years,’ Millican tells Teacher. ‘So I've moved in the right direction with things like my Mathematics Olympics … and my all of the other teams that I'm part of.’

Supporting families and teachers with technology use

One successful initiative in place at South Grafton High School, the Tech Help Team, was developed rapidly when schools across the state were instructed to begin remote learning due to the risks posed by COVID-19.

During this time, it became clear to Millican and her colleagues that some students would not be able to effectively participate in remote learning because they didn’t have adequate access to the required technology at home.

As well as this, Millican observed a need for more communication to parents and carers about expectations around remote learning and what it involved. She was also conscious of some colleagues not being as confident using technology as others.

‘The Tech Help Team [was] sort of born from everyone’s panic,’ Millican shares. ‘I consider myself quite competent with technology and [feel] confident teaching other people how to use it, and so I said “look, let's make a team of teachers who feel confident and let's allocate us to helping the teachers learn how to teach online, and helping students learn how to learn online, and helping the parents adjust to this changed world that we're now finding ourselves in”.’

Lesson Improvement Team

Millican is also part of the Lesson Improvement Team at South Grafton High School – an initiative designed to continually improve lessons in all classes across the school in order to increase student engagement.

‘[Our Deputy Principal] wanted to find a way to create the engagement that she felt the students needed in their schooling,’ she explains. Teachers from various faculties across the school, including Millican, volunteered to work on this goal which resulted in a team of teachers who work with each other to share how they are engaging students in learning in their classroom.

‘And then we were able to go into other peoples’ classrooms outside of the team and sort of sit and observe their lessons and say “hey, what if you tried it this way” … [and] the teachers whose rooms we were going into could see “oh, look, the suggestions that they are wanting to put in place are making a difference, they’re having an impact, the students are more engaged, which decreases their negative behaviours in class”.’

Annual Mathematics Olympics

In Millican’s first year of teaching, she observed a colleague’s daylong STEM challenge event and was astonished at how engaged students were in the learning. She knew she wanted to create something similar, but for Mathematics.

After working for about a year to develop the resources, the Annual Mathematics Olympics was ready to deliver to Millican’s students with the aim of engaging them in the learning of various Mathematics topics in a fun, team-based, interactive way.

The Annual Mathematics Olympics involves students completing a range of activities across a full school day in teams of 4. The activities completed by students are similar to those Millican shares in her video series.

Teams are given marks for their teamwork, collaboration, and how well they have solved the problem. Because the event was a success with her students, Millican then decided to share the resources she had developed with other high schools in the area, and eventually, throughout the state. Now, over 30 schools in New South Wales have accessed the resources for the Annual Mathematics Olympics.

‘All the feedback that I got was just overwhelmingly positive, like “I've never seen the kids so engaged”,’ Millican shares. ‘My Year 10s now were in Year 7 [when the Olympics was first held] and they still talk about it … so it had an impact, and they have all remained in the top class, and they have pushed themselves and they’re willing to try difficult things … they're not scared to try the things that they are not familiar with. So it's had a huge impact on the on the kids.’

Millican has plans to arrange for teams at different schools to compete against each other next year.

If you’re a teacher in New South Wales and are interested in involving your students in the Annual Mathematics Olympics, you can contact Holly Millican by email to find out more:

The Lesson Improvement Team at South Grafton High School has seen staff from different faculties share expertise to improve student engagement in learning across the school.

As a secondary school teacher, think about the last time you collaborated with a staff member from a different faculty. In what ways was this valuable? Are there opportunities in the future to share expertise across faculties?