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Maths teacher who makes learning fun named Young Alumnus of the Year


Sharlene King
31 October 2019

Holly Millican is an award-winning young-career teacher on a mission to empower and inspire students. Her alternative mathematics learning opportunities engage 21st century learners to help shape them into global citizens.

Just two years into the role, the 25-year-old’s teaching methods have gained the attention of the profession, students are flourishing, and community perceptions of her low socio-economic high school are improving. Her efforts earned a 2019 Learning Edge Teacher Award.

Ms Millican was last night named the 2019 Young Alumna of the Year at Southern Cross University’s inaugural Impact Awards.

Created to mark the University’s 25th anniversary, the Impact Awards celebrate the people – both staff and alumni – who push boundaries, create change, and lead the thinking to make a better world.

“My goal as a teacher is to alter the way mathematics is viewed. To transform this perception that maths is a boring subject only some people are good at into the idea mathematics can be a subject students are excited to learn about and truly feel they understand,” said Ms Millican.

“Within my classroom I implement hands-on activities which promote critical and creative thinking in my students, covering both syllabus content and enhancing creative and collaborative practice with a goal of creating a deep understanding and appreciation of the beauty of mathematics.”

Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker said the University’s graduates, who number more than 65,000 over the past 25 years, were enriching society.

“There is no doubt that the ability to enthuse students about mathematics is absolutely crucial to their lives. Holly Millican’s inventive approach lifts confidence and mathematical impact to new levels of achievement. It is just fantastic,” said Professor Shoemaker.

Ms Millican works at South Grafton High School, on the NSW Mid North Coast, where she developed a thriving mathematics enrichment tutoring program. It’s aimed at students who struggle with basic mathematical concepts, by providing them with types of mathematics that are regionally relevant and can be used in real life outside of school. While the program started with herself and two students, in the space of two terms it has expanded to five teachers and nearly thirty students. Ms Millican’s goal is to continue to expand the program, using community connections to assist in showcasing mathematics in the real world.

Ms Millican and the four other winners of the 2019 Learning Edge Teacher Award were described as the “most innovative, engaged, and passionate public high school teachers we could find in New South Wales”. She was shortlisted for the 2019 CHOOSEMATHS Teacher Awards.

The Learning Edge Teacher Award and the breakthrough mathematics enrichment tutoring program have broken down negative perceptions about South Grafton High, with key community members now actively advocating for increased enrolment at the school.

Professionally, Ms Millican is part of an invitation-only Targeted Head Teacher Learning Program within the NSW Department of Teaching. The Sydney Morning Herald has commissioned her to write articles about technology in 21st century teaching.

Inspired by her idol, maths teacher Eddie Woo, Ms Millican is creating a video mini-series focussed on ‘making 21st century maths fun’ through Teacher Magazine. 

Ms Millican graduated with a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education (Primary/Secondary) from Southern Cross University in 2018. She is currently studying a Master of Education through Southern Cross.

Other alumni winners at the 2019 Impact Awards: