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Today as a mathematics community we are coming together to share resources, memories and thoughts of Professor Malcolm Swan, on the day of his funeral. At Cambridge Maths, we have both personal connections and professional debts to Malcolm, whose work is an important cornerstone of our curriculum design principles and whose influence was strongly felt and will be sorely missed.
It is rare that we get to stop and think about maths education together on a global scale. It is also rare to find a mathematician so dedicated to helping others teach and learn our fascinating subject. If you haven't heard of Malcolm, it's more than likely you've used his resources: one of his best-known was the Standards Unit (Improving Learning in Mathematics), the government-commissioned set of resources sent to every maths department in the country in 2005. I remember as a young teacher being faintly scandalised by the humour and totally astounded by the good sense in what I expected to be another dry and bland government-mandated document. In his obituary , Hugh Burkhardt says 'his lessons contained surprise and delight, humanity and humour - qualities not always associated with lessons in mathematics'.
For so many colleagues in maths education, the first word that comes to mind when they think of Malcolm is kind. Stories abound of him taking the time to talk and explain his work with anyone who asked - anyone, no matter how little they know already, how naïve or how inexperienced in educational design. Dan Meyer writes 'He was willing to spend time and trade ideas with me long before I had anyone's name to drop, or any name of my own'. Consider the last time you attended an event, or connected with someone on social media professionally. How easy for us to only speak to those we think might be useful to us, or whose reputation precedes them; how beguiling to do a quick Google, or be impressed only by titles and institutions. As Malcolm gained in influence, he used that platform to help others. I can't help but admire and reflect on such a lovely thing.
Malcolm won the ISDDE 2008 Prize for Excellence in Educational Design for The Language of Functions and Graphs , a seminal work on designing tasks to help students make rich connections and explore graphical methods in an attentive and engaging way. His work Improving Learning in Mathematics took apart assessment practices and provided practical, useful tips for teachers , something Malcolm was well known for. Many report being inspired and provoked into rich thought on mathematics teaching by hearing him speak or reading his work. For most of us, this is the highest goal of our work in maths education.
Today, we remember that no matter what our stance on pedagogies, methods, teaching philosophies, task design or classroom organisation, we are a community of humans deeply interested in mathematics and promoting its love and use throughout the world, and we have lost one of our own.