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  New Executive Director - Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper

Posted Tuesday 15 January 2013.

The Board of the Australian Mathematics Trust, based at the University of Canberra, is pleased to welcome Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper to the position of Executive Director of the Trust from January 2013.

Mr Clapper left his position as Executive Principal of Gippsland Grammar and the nearby St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School to take up his new position. Mr Clapper has said of his new role, “I have been a great admirer of the work of the Mathematics Trust for many years, both as a practising teacher and as a committee volunteer.  It is very exciting to now find myself in a position to be involved more fully, both in terms of maintaining the high quality of the current competitions and in exploring a number of new initiatives which are currently under discussion with the Board.

Mr Greg Taylor AO, Chairman of the Board of the Trust said Mr Clapper had been selected from an international field, reflecting the many skills he possesses to lead the organisation into the future. “He is very highly regarded for his personal and administrative skills as an experienced School Principal with a lifelong interest in mathematics, holding a Master’s Degree from Oxford University. He has been a member of the Problems Committees of the Australian Mathematics Competition for many years, and is now Chair of the Committees”, he added.

Mr Clapper’s profile appeared in the December 2008 issue of The Globe and is reproduced here with permission:

I was born in London, England, though when I was 4 years old, my father received a posting to Manchester Airport so that most of my early memories are from there.  Neither of my parents had the benefit of much education, but they placed considerable value on it for their three boys (of which I was the middle one) and consequently we grew up in a house which had lots of books and strong encouragement for learning.  We went to the local Primary School which was on the large council estate where we lived and standards were not high, so I remember little of mathematics from those days other than number work, and my passion was for reading.  When I took my 11+, my parents also entered me for the entrance exam for Manchester Grammar School and I was fortunate enough to gain a place at this historic and prestigious establishment. 

It was, however, quite a culture shock when I arrived to find that most of the other students had studied French and Latin in Primary School and knew much more mathematics than I did.  My first year mathematics teacher, Mr Smith, humiliated me in front of the class because I didn’t know how to turn fractions into decimals! After two years there, the family moved to Southampton where I transferred to another well-established school, King Edward VI. By this time, I had gained a little confidence and mathematics had become a strength though I enjoyed most of my studies. I was not a conventionally hard-working student, as I often didn’t do the required homework, being easily seduced by things I discovered in encyclopedias or mathematical puzzles. I possessed, however, a considerable intellectual curiosity and asked my teachers lots of awkward questions, something I still encourage my students to do!   

I studied Pure and Applied Mathematics for A level and then applied to Oxford to read Mathematics. I was fortunate enough to gain a Scholarship to The Queen’s College, where one of my tutors was Peter Neumann, the son of BH Neumann, so well-beloved of the Australian Mathematics Trust. Peter and my other college tutor Martin Edwards were not only brilliant mathematicians, but also excellent teachers and, once again, I found myself extremely privileged with educational opportunities which I took entirely for granted at the time! My leaning was towards the pure

side of mathematics, though the Oxford course was very broad, something which I only realized the value of in later years. Number Theory, Combinatorial theory, Graph Theory and Logic were my final year subjects and my tutorial partner in Algebraic Number Theory was Andrew Wiles, later to become famous as the person to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Though I thought about doing research after my first degree, I doubt that my personality was suited to it, and I had a strong yearning to teach.  My first teaching position was at Trinity School in Croydon, where I was immediately given the Oxford and Cambridge candidates to prepare for their entrance examination. In my first term of teaching, we had an inspection by the HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectors of schools). I was a little apprehensive, but fortunately, the Inspector came to my Oxbridge class (I hadn’t learnt to control younger students then!). We worked our way through a whole Cambridge entrance paper in about half an hour (they were an extremely bright group) and I felt awkward because I had run out of things to do. Fortunately, one of my students had been doing some work on a number theory question I had been discussing with them about expressing integers as the sum of fourth powers so we worked on this as a group to the end of the lesson. The inspector later told my Head of Department he had got lost about 5 minutes into the lesson but was “impressed”. I had survived my first inspection.

After Trinity, I worked for 12 years in Inner London, in some rough but very rewarding schools.  I found myself teaching A Level Computer Science, despite never having used a computer. This was at a time when we were still using punch cards, but I was at the forefront of that growth phase where computers gradually became integral to education.

In 1977, I met Jo, who was one of several Australians working at my school.  She had come to UK for that obligatory year overseas but, probably because of meeting me, had stayed for 11 years, by which time we had two young children.  I was, at that time, Deputy Head of Neasden High School but, owing to Jo’s mother being unwell, we decided to resign our jobs and come to Australia. Having only ever attended or taught in state schools, I assumed I would be able to get a job in the Victorian state system, but I hadn’t counted on the bureaucracy. When it became clear that I would have to do a Dip Ed at Monash in order to be accepted, I obtained temporary employment at St Leonard’s College in Brighton. Soon I was appointed Director of Curriculum and remained happily at the School for 11 years. I taught Maths and Computer Science and became involved in the IB program. I also became responsible for the Theory of Knowledge Course, which became a real passion, led some workshops for IB teachers from Asia-Pacific and became involved in exam-setting for VCE Mathematics. This was in the early nineties when new forms of assessment were being trialed. I was involved in setting the problem-solving and investigation CATs in each of the mathematics subjects, firstly under Kaye Stacey and then as Chair of that panel. I enjoyed, in particular, working with Andy Edwards, a most inventive problem-setter.  I believe that the panel came up with some very creative ideas over that period, but the mode of assessment foundered because of the difficulty of ensuring the authorship of student work with common state-wide CATs set over an extended period.

In 1998, I took up a position as Principal of Hunter Valley Grammar School. Shortly after starting there, I met Jacqui Ramagge, a mathematician from Newcastle University, through whom I met a number of interesting people from the world of mathematics and mathematics education. It was this connection which brought my name to the attention of Warren Atkins when he was setting up the AMT Primary Maths competition and I was an inaugural member of the problem-setting committee. The following year, Warren invited me to join the Secondary committee and it has been a great privilege to work on both committees over the last five years.  In 2005, I moved down to Gippsland as Principal of Gippsland Grammar. In both my principalships, I have insisted on continuing to teach and the classroom is still my favourite place!


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