A tribute to Mundher Al-Adhami

Written by Sarah Seleznyov

This blog is a tribute to Mundher Al-Adhami, who recently passed away and is a sad loss to the Let’s Think community. Mundher was one of the lead researchers who developed the Let’s Think (Cognitive Acceleration) in Maths approach and has supported the Let’s Think community tirelessly throughout the years.

In this blog, those who knew him share their memories of his life and friendship.

You can read more about Mundher’s life in maths and in Iraqi politics in the Guardian obituary and you might also be interested in reading this tribute issue of Equals magazine, which he founded.

 

Alan Edmiston

I first met Mundher in 1996 and soon came to view him as a dear friend and trusted mentor. Mundher was the most interesting person I knew, an exiled Iraqi who moved to Russia to study for his PhD before coming to the UK. Initially Mundher spent time at Durham University before working as a maths subject lead in London. He was part of the team led by Margaret Brown that produced the GAIM (Graded Assessment in Mathematics) materials. Following that he paired up with Michael Shayer to work on the CAME (Cognitive Acceleration through Maths) project. This collaboration saw him reside at King’s College for many years resulting in several books, numerous publications and latterly the Let’s Think Maths series of activities. It was just prior to the publication of the CAME or Thinking Maths lessons that I was first introduced to him by Michael Shayer. Little did I know that meeting Mundher would change the course of my career and see me move in a relatively short time from teaching science to someone who would spend most of his time teaching mathematics across all Key Stages and working with maths teachers.

One time with Mundher clearly stands out for me.  In 1998 he was kind enough to visit the North of England to spend time with some maths teachers from Sunderland as part of their CAME training. It was a pleasure to host him over that weekend and I clearly remember his joy at visiting Durham Cathedral and his delight as we had tea (Mundher was a great tea drinker) and wandered round the Botanic gardens. At his request we were able to visit his first home in a former coal mining village and Van Mildert College. I distinctly remember him telling me how safe he felt in his university room after fleeing Iraq knowing he would not be arrested and how amazing it was to live without the scrutiny that comes under oppressive regimes.

With Lynda Maple we set up a company called Cognitive Acceleration Associates (CAA) to carry on the CAME CPD when Mundher left King’s College. Early in its history, and soon after the fall of Sadam Hussain, he returned home to Iraq. Mindful of the risks involved in such a journey he left me a gift, which I still have in my possession, of two cheques for £10,000 to be cashed in the event of his getting into trouble so I could carry on the work of CAA. 

Thinking back to that gesture brings Mundher’s wisdom into focus for he knew what in life what held true value. Material possessions meant very little to him in comparison to the investment of developing and supporting people to reach their potential. To the frustration of his colleagues he would give resources away including his own time and money. It was lovely to see him carefully and respectfully listen to, and value others without making them feel nervous. He encouraged them to express their anxieties and warmly supported their efforts.  

Mundher possessed an intuitive grasp of progression within mathematics and was brilliant at devising activities that enabled children to move towards higher, abstract, levels of thinking within a conceptual strand. For me the lessons he devised stand the test of time and teaching them is a honor to this day.  I do not possess the words to fully pay tribute to him and to highlight the impact he had upon my life. It was a pleasure to know him and to spend time in his home and with his family. Those who knew him will miss his warmth, compassion and love deeply. 

 

Sally Howard

I first met Mundher many moons ago when CASE was first branching out from just being a secondary science thing! Mundher’s devotion to quality maths education and helping learners learn and teachers teach more effectively was incredible. Attending any  CASE/ CAME sessions he was involved in  always bought laughter and great insight into why learners of any age might struggle with maths.  It hadn’t  crossed my mind that children across the primary age might still not recognise the need to measure from the zero mark rather than the start of the measuring stick, until I took part in one of his early CAME ideas for young children. Only then did the penny drop! Encounters with Mundher as his ideas were always invigorating – keeping up with his pace of thinking, talking  and passion for practical experience  with cognitive conflict was always an energised affair. He and his ideas will be greatly missed, not just by his family but by all who knew him. Rest in peace dear man. 

 

Shirley Simon
My memory of Mundher goes back to the EARLI conference in Padua Italy in 2003. I had of course already met him at Kings at the end of the 1990s when we started [email protected], but CASE was always quite separate from CAME at that time. I bumped into him in a street in Padua and we had a long conversation ranging from academic stuff to religion and then to his adventures with Michael Shayer in Italy visiting lots of art and culture. He persuaded me to take a day off and visit Venice and it was the best thing I did. That (is a memory) that has stayed in my mind all these years. We will miss him for his kind good humour and his wide range of interests.

 

Sarah Seleznyov

Mundher was my maths hero and a father figure for me in terms of my professional learning.  There was nothing he didn’t know about the development of children’s mathematical thinking and he always had time to answer my questions.

Doing CAME training twenty years ago radically changed my practice and my beliefs about mathematical teaching and learning.  I felt as if everything I had learned so far in my teaching career needed to be torn up, reassembled and rethought – it was scary, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I went straight from doing CAME training, to attending a lesson design programme led by Mundher, a replication of the original CAME training for teachers.  We wrote a set of lessons which are still used by Year 4 pupils and which were used for a large funded project in London, which achieved effects akin to the original research and were published in a journal article.  I then moved straight on to becoming a Let’s Think Tutor, all with the encouragement, support and guidance of Mundher.

He always saw potential in me, and always pushed me to do more.  Firstly to read more, advice which led me to get a job at UCL Institute of Education.  Then to write more, initially for Equals magazine, but then moving into a Master’s study which became a journal article.  I wouldn’t be where I am today – a headteacher, PhD student and published author several times over – without his encouragement and guidance.

We spoke regularly, right up until he passed away.  He helped me develop a mathematics progression document for my Reception class, and was working on one for my new Year 1 class.  He liked to pick my brains about his latest thinking and projects, and was latterly working on what we affectionately called his ‘world domination’ project with Ian McLaghlan in South Africa.  Mundher never stopped fighting for pupils’ rights to a high quality, enjoyable mathematics education.

I will miss him terribly: his grand plans, his eternal optimism, his generosity, and his humour (especially jokes about the Tunisian neighbours).  His legacy will live on as we continue to help teachers using the resources and the professional development model he helped us design, and to fight for pupils to have the best mathematics education teachers can provide.

 

Sue Johnston-Wilder

I remember Mundher as warm, encouraging and fizzing with ideas. He was ageless – there was a time we were worried about him but he got better and came back to work.  He seemed to love working with teachers, and building their confidence. He was thoughtful, generous and inclusive. 

 

Lynda Maple

I worked with Mundher for many years; in the main, as joint tutors on Let’s Think maths courses.  We trained hundreds of teachers as part of an initiative with the Education Action Zone in North Islington. Although that was over twenty years ago, his enthusiasm and kindness lives on in the schools and the work they do in mathematics.

Mundher was always positive in his dealings with the teachers he met. He was humble and generous and had a way of helping everyone to take on the challenges they faced when introduced to the CA approach. 

I will miss him very much and he will always be one of the highlights in my career in education. 

 

Martina Lecky

From the first time I met Mundher at King’s College as part of the CA tutor group that Philip Adey organised in the 1990s, I knew I was in the presence of an ‘intellectual giant’. Every time he spoke, I was struck by his passion for the discourse on students’ cognitive development. My friendship grew with Mundher when I became a member of the Let’s Think Forum (LTF) shortly after Philip’s death. Mundher asked me to be a trustee with him and Michael Shayer in 2014 and some of my fondest memories are sitting in Michael’s garden discussing numerous topics from LTF business to educational pedagogy. Mundher was a bright light in all our lives, leaving an indelible mark on the field of cognitive psychology and mathematics education. We will miss our debates with him and his legacy, cognitive acceleration, will continue to change students’ learning and teachers’ classroom practice. 

 

Mark Dawes

I was extremely fortunate to be part of a secondary CAME training cohort about 20 years ago.  Mundher was an extraordinary character, and someone I enjoyed working with over the subsequent years.  I didn’t just benefit from his professional wisdom during the course days, but was, as many others have mentioned, mentored by him over a long period of time.  Mundher continued to be an enormous influence on my teaching and my professional development in ways that I am consciously aware of, and, undoubtedly, in ways that I do not realise.

One of my abiding memories of Mundher is the way, after listening intently to those of us with vastly less experience and wisdom, he would connect our half-formed ideas to research, to data he had collected, to things that he and others had written, and to lessons he had observed.  For me, those discussions were transformative in my thinking about mathematics and about education.  His work, and his personality, will continue to influence me and my students in the years to come.