28th April

Whenever people ask me who my hero is, I always say Malcolm Swan. Malcolm sadly passed away earlier this week, so I wanted to share a few memories with you.

As all Maths teachers who completed their PGCE at Nottingham University, I was brought up with Malcolm’s Shell Centre material in the early days and in later years, this box of magic:


Many of these tasks have appeared in my schemes of work over the years. The ‘Always, Sometimes, Never’ tasks and the questioning stems ‘Show me an example of… and another, and another…’ are staples of any Maths scheme of work. Many more brilliant lessons have appeared recently on the Mathshell website (Math-shell, not Maths-Hell) which hosts the Mathematics Assessment Project, which is part of the Maths Design Collaborative initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You will probably recognise some of the content on there as I have used many of the lessons on the year 7 and 8 schemes.

My personal memories though, have been in recent years. When I started working for the Maths Hub, I was incredibly fortunate to work with Malcolm on several occasions. I was in awe every time we were at meetings together, but he always spoke to me and everyone in the room as if we were his friends.

He turned up at my very first Curriculum Development day with some colleagues from the University. He said he’d just stay for the morning – I was just stunned that he’d come at all! During the morning break he said to me ‘I’ve just written a paper about something that will link really nicely with what you were talking about this morning. Would you like me to share it with everyone? It will take about an hour.’ Well, that’s like playing a gig at your local pub and David Bowie coming up and asking if he could jam along with you, and actually, would you mind if he played his new song? Malcolm ended up staying for the rest of the day too. At the end he told me that my presentation was ‘very good’ and that he’d really enjoyed the day. Possibly one of my best moments ever.

He didn’t charge for coming along that day, and he never charged for any other events we held that he attended. He would come along and act as ‘Koshi’ (The knowledgable other) for open Lesson Studies and offer advice on the lesson plans beforehand.

Before he became ill, he was helping me to plan a Lesson Study course and conference that shared the findings of the LeMaPS project.  Malcolm, along with others at the University had introduced me to this and I learnt so much through his work. There had been a LeMaPS website, and I was saying we should update it ready for the course. Malcolm said ‘I’ll do that’. Then I needed a speaker – ‘I’ll do that’. ‘Can I borrow that video of you acting as Koshi?’ (see below). He gave me a memory stick with all his Powerpoints and videos. For free.  He did things like that all the time.


He was the most knowledgeable, inspirational, kind and humble man. Although he will be truly missed, I have no doubt I will be using his lessons for the rest of my career, and will continue to ask students for another, and another…

Malcolm Swan