6 May 2020

Remembering Don Steward

On Tuesday afternoon I checked my phone seconds before joining a two hour meeting. There it was. A message to say that Don Steward had passed away.

I still can't believe it. I had been looking at his blog only a few hours before I heard the news.

I only met Don Steward a handful of times but he meant so much to me.

I remember the first time I heard about Don. I was with Ceri - the university friend who inspired me to become a maths teacher. We'd taken my baby daughter on a day out at the Horniman Museum in South London. I'd only been teaching a couple of years at that point. Ceri was moving away, to teach in the Middle East. We didn't talk much about maths teaching that day, but just before we said goodbye she told me about a website she'd been using. I remember exactly where we were standing, in the gardens at the front of the museum, when I scribbled the name of the website down on scrap of paper. I remember it like it was yesterday. 'Median. Don Steward'.

When I looked at his blog, I couldn't believe my eyes. I was shocked that all these amazing tasks had been written so long ago and I hadn't even known they existed. And they were free! I started using Don's tasks in my teaching at every opportunity. I fell in love with his blog.

I later started writing resourceaholic.com. His first mention came in the fourth blog post I ever wrote, in May 2014. He has featured in the vast majority of the posts I have written over the last six years. He has been mentioned in almost every conference presentation I have ever given. I have tweeted about his resources endlessly.

I had the pleasure of meeting Don Steward a few times - the first was at #mathsmeetglyn which I organised and hosted at my old school. He was funny, and his presentation was quirky and fascinating. He made us think. I asked for a selfie and he said he would normally say no, but he let me. He later berated me by email for sharing the photo! I guess he didn't like attention. It's one of my favourite photos ever.
Don was always watching on Twitter. I'd tweet things and he'd email me about them. Sometimes I'd even get a little mention on his blog. I loved that. Sometimes he'd ask me to blog about something in particular (like his schemes of work). He put a lot of time and effort into his work and appreciated me sharing it widely.

I always knew Don was there, reading my tweets and posts. It meant the world to me.

In 2016, I received a surprise parcel in my pigeonhole at school. Don had sent me all of his PowerPoints on a memory stick. I'm still stunned by this.
Don Steward was generous and kind. He was clever and creative. He did a huge service to maths teachers all over the world and we will be forever grateful for that.

Back in 2016, I led a #mathscpdchat where we all shared our favourite Don Steward resources on Twitter. I'd like to encourage people to do that again. Not in a one hour chat, but over the coming fortnight. Tweet a picture of your favourite Don Steward task, with the hashtag #donsteward.

I look forward to seeing them all.



Don Steward has been contributing resources, insights and ideas to the maths education community for decades. You only have to look at the number of messages about him on Twitter yesterday to see how many lives he touched.

I didn't know Don well. I saw him as a mentor. A maths teaching hero.

There are many people in the maths teaching community who knew Don Steward far better than I did, and my heart goes out to them. And of course my sincere condolences go to Don's family and friends.

Don was a true legend, and I think I speak for all maths teachers when I say that we will forever treasure his memory.







17 comments:

  1. Lovely post Jo. Thank you for sharing it. I don't know if I'd be able to pick just one resource as a favourite. I never got the chance to meet Don but I was saddened to hear of his passing and regret never getting around to reaching out and thanking him for his work and resources. My love for his Median blog is a source of gentle, good natured teasing at my work. My Head of Dept once told me "You'd leave your wife for Don Steward if you had half the chance." I didn't challenge him over that.

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  2. Even in Australia the 'fame' of Don was well known. Now retired, but I continue to share so may of Don resources. Thank you Don.

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  3. RIP Don. Your family are in my prayers!

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  4. This has broke my heart this morning. We had him at some of our conferences, as well as the one at your old school. He was a wealth of information and an all round lovely man. He will certainly be missed. He was THE Don.

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  5. What a loss! I knew of his amazing work through this blog! I hope there will be some way to preserve it.

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  6. Such a lovely post.
    I find his work inspiring and creative, and like many, his (and yours) is one of the first places I look for resources. Condolences to his family and friends.
    From Perth Western Australia.

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  7. I presented at a conference here in Western Australia a couple of years ago and mentioned my favourite sites, yours and Median! I can't believe we will never go and find the latest thing he has added. I emailed him a couple of times and he always replied to someone half a word away.

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  8. I have a horrible feeling on grief today. I didn't know Don, or ever meet him. It's like the same feeling you get when a musical artist whose music you always loved dies. It makes sense I suppose - his resources brought joy to my teaching and helped my students. He was a rockstar of the Maths education world. The one thing I regret is never having dropped him a quick email saying "thanks". The thing I always loved was when I used a resource with a class, and then discovering with the student why the questions were sequenced in certain way or what underlying patterns I had missed when printing the sheet out for them. He really was operating on a different plane to most of us. RIP Don.

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  9. Some lovely reflections here Jo. I only met him a couple of times. I first time I was ridiculously excited having, like you, discovered his site and used so many resources from it. He travelled over from Shropshire early one Saturday morning to present to us at the London Branch ATM/MA. He was so gracious, gentle, funny and kind. And then he started talking about maths and we were all gripped. I found his ideas inspiring and useful in equal measure!

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  10. I would often refer to him to other folk that he was the Roger Federer of maths teaching - like Roger the greatest of all time perhaps - I corresponded by email over the last 4 years with Don and would show him images of my work in progress and he was my virtual mentor in this regard - "would this be good enough to impress Don?" is a question I would ask myself about my designs - all we can do in response to this loss is continue to aspire to create work as great as he did - work that will live long in the passionate practice of our fellow colleagues.

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  11. Mr Steward was my maths teacher for one year. His teaching was unlike any other maths teacher I ever had. He made me think differently, and took pride in every pupils achievements. RIP Mr Steward.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I have often wondered what he was like as a teacher. What an inspiration to us all.

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  12. I remember discovering his site in 2016 and was simply blown away by the thought he put into his resources. After a full month I think of trying to use a resource of his everyday, I emailed him to say thank you for his site and resources, I was taken back by the fact he replied and was so kind.

    I later emailed him with a resource I created which was inspired from his site, he again replied and offered his thoughts and advice. I was taken back that he had actually gone through it and he was questioning the solutions, what patterns could be drawn from them. He then typed it up and put it on his site, the impact to me was seen by wife.

    Being off twitter, I heard about Don's passing through a friend texting me. When I mentioned it to my wife, she knew of him through the pride I had when he put my resource on his site those years ago.

    Lovely tribute Jo.
    All the best to his family and friends in this tough time.

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  13. Thank you for all the comments on this post. It is wonderful to see how many lives he touched.

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  14. Very sad news. I use resources from Don's Media blog almost every day - top-quality questions and ideas to get students thinking mathematically. He's had a profound impact on my teaching and workload, and I'll always be grateful for his generosity in sharing everything he made.

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  15. I first came across Don about twenty+ years ago when looking to get some new resources for the department I was working in. I purchased a series of his Median booklets. Years later these resources sadly got destroyed by flooding when my store cupboard got inundated by rain water. I was so distraught about losing the teaching materials that I felt I had to replace them. Not knowing Don had set up a blog, I managed to get in touch with him again. Needless to say, by the end of the week Don had sent me a memory stick with copies of the original resources and pretty much everything he had ever developed. What a superstar
    His resources have had a profound affect on my teaching and helped 1,000 of students develop an interest in Mathematics. Don will be greatly missed.

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