Maths teaching whiz honoured by peers

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 04/12/2013
Max Riley
JAMES GREENLAND/FAIRFAX NZ

FIGURED OUT: Nayland College’s Max Riley stands in front of his award-winning maths teaching website.

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Nayland College's Max Riley has been honoured by his peers for helping people to understand and engage with mathematics.

Mr Riley is the 2013 winner of the Ernest Duncan Award, issued by the New Zealand Association of Mathematics Teachers in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the in-class teaching of mathematics.

His website, maths.nayland.school.nz, started life quietly as an in-class resource - a private system within which he organised his lessons. "It was essentially a filing system," Mr Riley said.

But, as other teachers started to use the system too, drawing inspiration and organisation from his lesson plans, he quickly realised the broader potential for a shared maths teaching resource.

Maths teachers up and down the country constantly battle to teach their subject effectively, against a lack of government funding and resourcing, he said. On top of that, maths was often seen as the black jelly-bean within the education lolly-shop, and was less popular with students than other subjects, he said.

"It's a hard job to be in. We have got to help each other."

Frustrated by an often confusing and inconsistent NCEA system, he taught himself coding and basic web-development skills, and began adding resources and information to the site as a way to increase co-operation between maths teachers on the front line of New Zealand's education system.

"Working together, sharing free resources between teachers and students. Download resources, use, modify, improve and share," reads the mantra on the award-winning website's home page.

It's grown steadily since humble beginnings in the mid-2000s. Learners and teachers alike log-in daily, from countries around the world.

Fewer than 1000 page hits per month was standard for a few years, but now Nayland Mathematics gets that many clicks every day - sometimes that many in an hour, when exams and tests are looming.

Mr Riley said it's been great watching the site grow, but the rewarding part was hearing how it has helped people in their quest to master mathematics.

He recounted the gratitude of a struggling and uninspired maths teacher from a low-decile boys' school in Auckland. Out of the blue, she sent him a large gift basket and a heartfelt note of thanks.

She said she would have, out of exasperation, quit teaching had it not been for the helpful resources on Mr Riley's site - most of which he prepared and perfected himself during 14 years as a maths teacher at Nayland.

"That sort of feedback is fantastic. You can't get better than that," he said.

Although the site has grown big enough to start selling advertising, Mr Riley said he won't.

He has applied for a "creative commons" intellectual property licence, which will allow him to safely share his resources without charge. "I'm not doing it for making money," he said.

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