Behind the Mathematician is a series designed to see what the best maths teachers do, why they do it, how they got there, and hopefully along the way help inspire the rest of us to move to the next level.
The second in this series is all about Jo Morgan, aka the creator and curator of the Resourceaholic website, an absolute gold mine for those of us hungry to find the best resources to support our teaching.
So, let’s find out more about the person behind this essential tool in a great deal of maths teacher’s lives!
What is your name/alias?
Jo Morgan, @mathsjem, resourceaholic.
What is your role?
I’m currently a maths teacher at a girls’ grammar school in South London.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I sit more in the ‘imparting knowledge’ camp than the ‘student inquiry’ camp. That doesn’t mean I’m resistant to new teaching ideas and technologies – quite the opposite.
My typical lessons include a short starter for recap followed by an explanation of new concepts (including questioning and class discussion), then an activity or worksheet. Well-chosen resources are my strength. I’m good at self-reflection and eager to learn from others – my teaching is constantly improving. My students would describe me as supportive and well-organised. They respect me because they know they’ll learn a lot in my lessons and I’ll do everything I can for them.
What made you become involved in Maths education?
After university I worked as an analyst in banking. I was good with spreadsheets and writing reports. I wasn’t keen on giving presentations. I’m always up for a challenge so I volunteered to speak at an Inner London school about careers in investment banking. It was a life-changing experience. I got such a buzz from interacting with students that I started to consider becoming a maths teacher. A year later I did a PGCE. Read my post ‘Why teach?‘ for the full story.
Beyond your main role, what other projects/work are you involved in?
My blog, resourceaholic.com, is a labour of love. It takes up a lot of my time but I enjoy every minute of it. My blog is growing quickly – it’s only five months old but is getting a phenomenal number of visitors. I’m very proud of it.
Resourceaholic.com has a very specific aim. I share teaching ideas and I recommend excellent resources. I’m trying to stop teachers having to spend hours searching the internet for inspiration. Planning a sequence of lessons on Pythagoras? I have a post that will help. Looking for resources for teaching S1? I’ve got it covered in my resource library. Looking for a new approach to homework? Try prêt homeworks. Not had a chance to see what’s been shared on Twitter this week? You might like my gems posts.
When I see a good idea, I share it. I’m genuinely passionate about collaboration. There’s no point keeping great ideas a secret – we’re not in competition with each other. Sharing is for the greater good.
What do you enjoy about your career?
I love being creative. It’s fantastic having the autonomy to decide how to deliver my lessons.
I get excited about using great resources.
Like all teachers, I get a huge feeling of satisfaction when students learn something from me. I get a buzz when a lesson goes really well.
I love it when an A level student asks me for help with a question and I don’t immediately know how to answer it. I enjoy talking it through with them, thinking out loud, and figuring it out together. Like all mathematicians, I love solving problems!
What do you think are the main challenges that maths teachers face?
The main challenge to maths teachers over the next few years will be effectively delivering the new curricula. A lot of big decisions need to be made. Teachers will have to embrace change and adapt to new requirements and curriculum content. Heads of Department will have to manage these changes whilst dealing with the shortage of competent and knowledgeable maths teachers in the UK.
We deal with these big changes whilst jumping over daily hurdles – sometimes these can be as trivial as finding a board pen that works or getting a computer to switch on. Our workload is unbelievable. I have the greatest respect for all teachers – they do an amazing job in endlessly challenging conditions.
What advice do you have for people just starting out in Maths education, or who would like to become involved?
Those considering becoming a teacher – people are not exaggerating when they say this is more than a job. It takes over your life. Tread carefully. If you really want to do it, jump in head first. Embrace it.
And for new teachers, five pieces of advice:
1. Know your subject. Before you start teaching GCSE, do a large number of past GCSE exam papers. Same with A level.
2. Be organised. My post ‘Practical tips for a (newly) qualified maths teacher’ will give you some ideas.
3. Follow a student around for a day. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine sitting at the back of one of your lessons.
4. Shadow your colleagues. Visit other schools. Observe a lot of lessons. Share good teaching ideas. Tell other teachers about your failures and your successes. Collaboration is the key to success.
5. Read my blog!
What tools/resources do you use to help you in your work?
My favourite resource websites are Median by Don Steward, Teachit Maths, Maths Pad, the Mathematics Assessment Project and The Chalkface. This is just a small selection of the websites I use for resources and ideas. I also use TES a lot and I’m looking forward to their improved search and filter functionality.
The fantastic online graphing calculator, Desmos, is an essential tool for both teachers and students.
I write student blogs to support and inspire my classes.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I was advised to join Twitter. It has been a revelation for me. I absolutely love it. I genuinely learn more about education in one week on Twitter than in one year at my school. It has moved my focus away from office politics and onto maths education. Twitter has transformed both my teaching and my self-belief.