There was always a 100 per cent chance that Thom Mutton would become a maths teacher.
And after almost four decades at the blackboard, including 31 years at Daramalan College, Mr Mutton has been recognised as one of Australia’s top maths educators.
On Friday (18 October), he was named one of 11 teachers to win the 2019 Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Choose Maths Awards for teacher excellence.
Running since 2016, the so-called ‘Oscars of mathematics’ has invested more than $267,000 in recognition of teacher excellence. Excellence awards were also presented to teachers from QLD, SA, VIC and WA.
Judged by a panel of maths education experts, the teacher awards acknowledge educators who show leadership, creativity and innovation, while mentoring colleagues and students to strengthen outcomes in mathematics.
Mr Mutton told Region Media that maths people are happy people and it always made sense (and cents) to choose maths.
“I love teaching and I love interacting with my colleagues and I love mathematics. Choosing maths for me is easy because I just love maths. It makes me happy,” he said.
Mr Mutton’s students are Daramalan are used to their teacher’s challenges that bring a sense of fun to the classroom.
This includes solving a problem of the week and challenging students to memorise Pi up to at least 20 digits for the Pi Day recitation competition (on 3/14, of course) and to participate in a knockout competition known as Dara 7s.
“I try to make maths interesting and I want the students to be happy,” he said.
“I tell maths jokes occasionally, but they have a mixed response, so I try to tell maths stories that are interesting and are different.
“Humour is a good way for students to remember things, so hopefully they feel more relaxed about coming to class and we can get on with each other.”
Mr Mutton said the key to making maths fun is making it real.
“For kids who struggle with maths, I find that they love statistics, especially if the statistics refer to them. So you collect data about them and then number crunch it to work out the median, mode, range. They love doing that.
“You can go outside and measure stuff, but you can’t escape hard work in maths. You only learn maths by doing it, that’s the bottom line.”
He said the biggest challenge for his students are the distractions posed by social media and mobile phones.
“Kids lead very busy lives and their mobile devices take a lot of time from their day. They can be constantly in touch with their friends.
“Something that one of my students said that has stayed with me is, the first rule of study is, first put your mobile phone away, then you can study.”
On receiving the award, Mr Mutton said he is just doing a job he loves.
“I work hard but there’s plenty of others out there who work just as hard, and I would love to see them nominated for an award like this as well.
“The teachers here are fantastic operators, so if any award comes my way, it’s not really about me, it’s about the department and my maths colleagues.”
AMSI schools program manager and Choose Maths project director, Janine Sprakel, said Mr Mutton was a deserving recipient of one of the coveted Teacher Excellence Awards as a leader, mentor and maths champion, particularly for girls.
“Thom continues to transform mathematics education at Daramalan College through his passion and implementation of creative initiatives to engage students in and beyond his school,” said Ms Sprakel.
Congratulating this year’s winners, AMSI director Professor Tim Brown said the teachers lead by example.
“This year’s winning teachers are helping equip a generation with the necessary mathematics to thrive in the future where mathematical sciences increasingly underpin any thriving community. Importantly, the impacts of their innovation, excellence and passion are felt, not only in their own classrooms, but across their schools and communities,” said Professor Brown.