News & Events

Maths and Art add up at Teachers’ Award

31 May 2019
Maths Awards

Award for Irish Teachers of Mathematics 



Sarah Tallon and Breda Disney were honoured with the Award for Irish Teachers of Mathematics in Cork on May 26th in the Aula Maxima of the University College Cork.


The award ceremony was special, earning the endearing nickname of “The Oscars of Mathematics” from Prof. Stephen Buckley, MRIA, head of the Maynooth University Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Young Mathematical Olympians captivated the audience with artistic interludes: bass and violin performances from Alison Riordan and Archie Conolly, poetry, inspiring speeches by Laura Cosgrave and Tianyiwa Xie, and a modern dance performance by Sarah Lane and her teammates from the Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance, Cork. Brilliant student performances promise to become a trademark of the awards: Last year, guests were treated to a performance by eighteen year old Kevin Jansson who played a Chopin nocturne – just a few months before winning the Young Chopin International Piano Competition. Young pianists Antonia Huang and Cillian Williamson also brought in brilliant performances.


The jury, drawn from academics, teachers and a nominated member of the Royal Irish Academy, had the difficult task of choosing 7 finalists from the 150 entries. The finalists all showed exceptional ingenuity in promoting mathematics whilst supporting, as well as challenging, their students. The jury was particularly impressed with Sarah Tallon’s participatory, discovery-based method of teaching, and with Breda Disney’s ability to bring out the best in her students.


All nominated teachers will receive special end-of-school gifts: “Thank You” posters personalised with quotes from their nominations. James Carroll from Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School, Co. Longford explains how teachers feel about the acknowledgement from their students.  “The feedback of past students means everything to me and to have someone sit down and take the time to write about my teaching gives me so much encouragement.” The winner Sarah Tallon talks about reading excerpts from her nomination: “I was moved beyond words. For a student to recognise the work that I do to promote Maths throughout the school, and then go to the effort of submitting a nomination, was a validation that my work is appreciated and I must continue at the same level of enthusiasm for as long as I possibly can”.


It is not all about the teachers either! The teachers’ awards also celebrate the student success of the winners of the Irish Mathematical Olympiad (IrMO) 2019. For six of them, this will be the springboard leading to their participation in the 60th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) - the world championship for school mathematicians.  Lucas Bachmann from Glenstal Abbey School, Co. Limerick; Tianyiwa Xie from Alexandra College, Dublin; Linhong Chen from The Institute of Education, Dublin; Alex Hanley from Lucan Community College, Co. Dublin; Laura Cosgrave from Midleton College, Co. Cork and Tim Wang from Christian Brothers College, Cork will carry the Irish flag to the challenging competition in Bath, Uk on 10-22 July, where they will compete with over 600 students from more than 100 countries.


These successful young mathematicians are not limited in the scope of their talents. Students Laura Cosgrave of Middleton College, Cork and Tianyiwa Xie of Alexandra College, who run a wonderful STEM blog, Science Angles shared their experiences from the International and European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiads with speeches of infectious enthusiasm.


As a delightful surprise for students and teachers alike, the ceremony ended with a couple of blues played by a band of mathematicians/engineer from the host institution UCC and CIT.


It takes celebrations like this to remind us that Mathematics is beauty as well as the basis of today’s science and technology and that teachers are the link that can often make the difference in a young person’s life.   Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett  reminds us of the importance of teachers in the classroom in this technological era.  "I have always contended that if you had your choice of just one piece of technology to put in the classroom – just one – it’s a pretty simple choice and the answer is a good teacher".


The Award for Irish Teachers of Mathematics mirrors a number of similar initiatives in other countries, in particular the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Teachers Prize, the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Rosenthal Prize for Innovation in Math Teaching in the US.  It rewards professional expertise in the subject of Mathematics, effective teaching practices, care for students' development and contributions to the community. The winner receives a prize of €10,000 and a trophy, and the runner up receives €2,000. The award is administered by the Irish Mathematical Trust.


The award is sponsored by the Frank Kenny Fund at The Community Foundation for Ireland for a five year period. The donor has supported the Award on the basis of a lifelong interest in mathematics and a belief in the need to recognise excellence in teaching. The first two editions of the award are also supported by the SFI Discover programme. Student prizes are also largely funded by the Frank Kenny Fund at The Community Foundation for Ireland, and the SFI, with additional support by Alder Capital.



Background Information:  


2019 WINNER Sarah Tallon from St. Leo’s College, Old Dublin Road, Carlow


Having graduated from DCU with 1st Class Honours B.Sc in Financial&Actuarial Mathematics and a Professional Master of Education, Sarah Tallon now works in the same school she had attended as a pupil. Sarah Tallon is leading the school Mathematics Department, coordinating Numeracy and promotion of Mathematics in her school, and leading the Student Attainment Project (to identify students who may need additional support or who are not reaching their potential.)


“When Ms. Tallon began teaching my class, it was the first time I began to really understand

Maths”. Nikki Germaine, former student


Sarah provides a drop in Maths Support Clinic two days a week, open to all students in the school. She teaches an after school Applied Maths Class for senior cycle students. She has developed the school Transition Year Maths Programme which explores Maths topics that the students would not normally see such as the history of numbers, codebreaking and cryptography, probability fallacies, the Fibonacci sequence, and a lesson to celebrate Kathrine Johnson’s 100th Birthday. She developed a STEM Module with participation in University of Limerick’s “Career Mathways” study. Sarah developed a student leadership role within Transition Year – “Maths Assistants”. Together they organise and promote Maths events that take place both in and out of school. There are weekly Maths puzzles, Maths Word of the Week, Maths jokes, and several Maths days throughout the year including Maths Week, Pi Day, Engineers Week, IMTA Junior and Senior Quiz, Maths Olympiad, John Hooper Statistics Poster Competition, the iWish Conference.


Sarah Tallon is an exceptional Maths teacher who engages the learner that finds Maths challenging and equally challenges the learner who is excelling.” “A core principle in her teaching style is ‘MATH – Mistakes Allow Thinking to Happen’.  She creates “a student-centred learning environment in her classroom where students learn to work both collaboratively and independently in a purposeful manner”. Imelda Whelan, Deputy Principal


In 2016 Sarah Tallon has set up her own public Maths YouTube channel. She took part in StudentTalks 2016 and won. Ever since she has created a bank of maths videos focusing on key concepts that students find challenging, which she shared with teachers in school and outside school. Her sharing knows no national boundaries; she scouts research-based innovative ideas off internet maths teaching communities and shares them with her peers.


RUNNER-UP Breda Disney from Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge, Co. Kildare


A free boys school next to an elite fee-paying school, the Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge draws pupils because of opportunities to develop a love of maths.  Breda Disney is at the heart of this process.  Among her students’ successes is now a first place in Ireland in Leaving Certificate Higher Level Mathematics 2018.


She stretches the students beyond the normal school curriculum by successfully leading all year groups in local, national and international maths competitions. Recently she mentored a Leaving Cert maths team of four students to finish in second place in the National Finals of the IMTA Team Maths competition in February.  She also reaches out to other schools to enter the various competitions thus creating networks of teachers promoting maths. “


Breda Disney gives more and more each year to her school community. Due to her, the school now has a strong cohort of eight excellent maths teachers who have all benefitted from Breda’s expertise, willingness to collaborate and share knowledge and methodologies.


     Breda Disney teaches for understanding emphasizing logical, proof-based thinking, joining the dots across curriculum when needed. She leads creative, investigative and group-work based lessons. “Many of her students go on to study maths related courses in college thus ensuring many mathematicians into the future!"

     Student nomination: “Breda Disney opened our eyes to the deep underlying beauties in the “simple intricacies” of mathematics. This completely changed my experience of maths, it helped me see it as the elegant language that it is.”




  • Eoghan O'Leary, Assistant Principal, Hamilton High School, Bandon, Co Cork
  • David McEvoy, Head,Mathematics Department, St. Mary’s Secondary School Edenderry

“Eoghan is the quintessential educator whose love of education is not only confined to his subject.” Eoghan’s students’ results are consistently outstanding.

He has always been generous with his time and with his resources, helping to create a culture of sharing within the maths department and the larger mathematics teacher community.


“David McEvoy is truly a life long learner. He is always researching new methodologies and always reports back to colleagues on how effective these methodologies are.”

David McEvoy is the Maths Support Centre Project Lead in the school – This centre is a place for students to come and ask any question on all the mathematics material they have covered in class or as part of their own independent work. He is also Lead Coordinator on Mathematical based competitions in the school.


  • Derek Maher, Holy Family Community School, Kilteel Road, Rathcoole, Co. Dublin
  • Colm Kenny, Manor House School, Raheny, Dublin 5

Derek Maher uses an inquiry-based approach in his teaching which helps develop students’

problem-solving skills. The teacher creates and values strong teacher/student relationships

and a caring and supportive learning environment. All students are encouraged to discuss

and debate Mathematics.

“Colm is a deep thinker and this quality is evident in his approach to his teaching.”

Mr Kenny had a talent when it came to explaining new concepts. He would always delve

deeper, to a point where we could reach a proper understanding. As someone who always

looked for understanding over learning by heart, this was appreciated so much… He always encouraged us to try, fail, learn from it and try again. Maths class was very much

a positive learning environment. Challenging but engaging, it was a class I looked forward to, one in which I was never bored.”


  • Caoimhin O Buachalla, Head of Mathematics Department, Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Kilkenny

“From extra classes after school, to activity and fun packed classes, Caoimhin really ensures

each and every student gets the most from each class…His knowledge of the course, and methods of teaching these are impeccable, and this is clearly reflected in the students grades every year…His students take part in SciFest, along with Young Scientist, and regularly win prizes in the maths and technology section”. Cathnia O Muircheartaigh, principal


SPECIAL NOMINATION FOR LIFE-LONG CAREER – Eileen O' Grady, Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí


Eileen taught for 38 years in Ardscoil Phobal Bheanntraí (now amalgamated with Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí). She was the only teacher to teach LC higher level Maths in Ardscoil Phobal from 1987 to the day it closed and continued teaching the higher level up to her retirement in 2012/2013. Unfortunately she passed away unexpectedly after a short illness in November 2018…Eileen went through at least 3 curriculum changes and an amalgamation. She embraced each change, never complaining… She was continuously working on her knowledge of Maths... If you asked anyone about Honours Maths in the wider Bantry area, Eileen’s name would pop up in conversation… Eileen loved everything about her job as a Maths teacher (her first love and passion) while also devoting much of her time to her prized new first years each year in her pastoral care role…She was a great mentor to new teachers, not just Maths teachers…


She had a great sense of being fair and just too all students. This allowed her to bring the best out of them. A lovely little sum’, was a great saying by her. This made the students more at ease before tackling the sum (even though the sum could have been very testing). Seán Pól Ó' Síocháin, colleague


The Irish Mathematical Trust


      The Irish Mathematical Trust is an organization of mathematicians dedicated to inspiring and training Ireland’s next generation of creative thinkers. It builds on a tradition of 30 years of engagement with school students through free classes run by volunteer staff in 5 major university centres. The Irish Mathematical Trust supports an integrative approach to Mathematical Education, bringing together different stakeholders (teachers, parents, students and lecturers) in a collaborative effort to spread best practices and innovative teaching methods. The IMT range of projects include hundreds of hours of problem solving sessions, engaging tens of thousands of students in mathematical activities through online support for teachers and volunteer work, conversing with the general public, and training university students to teach younger generations.  IMT offers school students a global perspective by organizing the participation of Irish teams in prestigious international competitions – Mathematical Olympiads - with three silver and seven bronze medals earned by Irish students in the last five years. All IMT work has been provided at no cost to the students or schools, thereby allowing young people of all backgrounds an equal opportunity to improve their mathematical skills.


The Community Foundation for Ireland


The Community Foundation for Ireland is one of the largest philanthropic organisations in Ireland. The organisation was established in 2000 with the support of Government and the business sector. From an initial investment of €1m in 2000 and through the support of families, individuals, corporates and other trusts and foundations, a perpetual fund of over €45m has been grown. Cumulative grant-making now exceeds €39million. In 2017 alone, over €6.5 million in grants was distributed, the highest amount we have given out in a single year. Through the generosity of its donors, The Community Foundation for Ireland continued to support the community and voluntary sector and provided a diverse range of grants in support of communities throughout Ireland and overseas.


The 32nd Irish Mathematical Olympiad Roll of Honour


1 Lucas Bachmann Glenstal Abbey School, Murroe, Co. Limerick

2 Tianyiwa Xie Alexandra College, Milltown Road, Dublin 6

3 Linhong Chen The Institute of Education, Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2

4 Alex Hanley Lucan Community College, Lucan, Co. Dublin

5 Laura Cosgrave Midleton College, Midleton, Co. Cork

6 Tim Yunjie Wang Christian Brothers College, Wellington Road, Cork

7 Ellen Li Castleknock Community College, Castleknock, Dublin 15

8 Giulio Mazzotta St. Joseph's CBS, Fairview, Dublin 3

9 Archie Connolly Rice College, Ennis, Co. Clare

9 Ronan Murphy Moate Community School, Co. Westmeath

11 Yixin Huang Alexandra College, Milltown Road, Dublin 6

12 Paidi Walsh Ballybay Community College, Ballybay, Co. Monaghan

13 Sean Fitzgerald Castletroy College, Limerick

14 Sarah Lane St. Aloysius Girls Secondary School, Cork

15 Daniel Joyce Patrician Secondary School, Newbridge, Co. Kildare

15 Matthew Kiely Ardscoil Ris, Limerick

15 Sean O'Donoghue Colaiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co. Cork

18 Darragh Kelleher Millstreet Community School, Millstreet, Co. Cork

19 James Chen Castletroy College, Limerick

20 Sprihaa Singh St. Andrew's College, Blackrock, Co. Dublin

21 Brendan Alinquant The Institute of Education, Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2

22 Suneet Mahajan Douglas Community School, Cork

23 Robin Pfeiffer Calasanctius College, Oranmore, Co. Galway


School of Mathematical Sciences

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