Steven Walker, Maths Subject Advisor
During the reform of A Level Maths there were four key changes that teachers raised as concerns. Will Hornby, OCR Lead on A Level Maths, discussed these in his blog Four big changes to Maths A Level qualifications, first published in December 2016.
In this second blog I take a look through the comments from teachers, stakeholders and assessors to see the impact over these first few years of the addition of the Large Data Set (LDS) requirement.
The large data set (LDS) is a pre-released set or sets of data that should be used as teaching material throughout the course. The purpose of the LDS is that learners experience working with real data in the classroom and explore this data using appropriate technology. The LDS is not a separate content item to be covered in a scheme of work; it is intended to enrich the teaching and learning of the statistics content.
There has been a mixed response from teachers about the inclusion of the LDS. The data has been welcomed as a resource, but there are concerns that the exam questions involve a lot more reading and the answers need more wordy responses.
The LDS is published as an Excel file to make it easy to extract data for tables and charts. There has been some discussion about publishing the data in other formats, but so far it seems to be the case that those teachers using more sophisticated software are confident with converting the data themselves.
Scheduling whole class lessons in computer suites is still an issue for some teachers. Classroom exposition, followed by flipped learning, independent activities, is one way around this access issue.
Use of technology was one of the four key changes identified at the time of reform and I will look at this in more detail in the next blog. Please use the comment box at the end to share your lesson ideas for using technology with the LDS.
Whilst it was designed to be a teaching resource, there are questions on the statistics paper where a familiarity with working with the LDS will give candidates a material advantage. The focus of the exam questions is on assessing the skills of data presentation and interpretation for exploratory data analysis, and the material advantage will be related to drawing conclusions from the data and understanding the limitations of those conclusions.
This often means that exam questions are set with multiple graphs of data extracted from the LDS and this may take up a lot of space for a single question. The LDS question is often printed on a double page spread so that candidates can see all the information without the need for page turning. (The separate question and answer booklets helps with this as well.)
Examiners point out that although questions focusing on the data from the LDS may be longer than traditionally seen on exam papers, this is slightly balanced by the fact that the data should be familiar to the students. Often it is the initial assumptions or the conclusion part of a question that actually requires any prior knowledge of the LDS: most of the questions could be answered with the source data unseen.
Teachers should encourage students to avoid answering these wordy parts with long winded explanations; a short single sentence statement, or brief bullet points are all that is needed.
The Mathematics A H230/H240 assessment has used the same large data set since accreditation.
However, the Mathematics B (MEI) H630/H640 has a slightly different approach, with three large data sets that are updated on a three year cycle. Students will only tackle questions based on one specific set that is relatively up to date, but teachers have a good range of resources to use real data when teaching the full specification content. For more details of the MEI approach see Keith Proffitt’s blog on Why three large data sets for the MEI specification?
At OCR we have produced some notes and activities for use with the LDS. These can be found on Teach Cambridge in the Teaching and delivery guides section.
There are also external resources available such as:
Whilst the inclusion of the LDS is still an issue that needs addressing, teachers have requested that statistics as a whole is covered in the upcoming professional development programme. For those teachers new to teaching statistics, the AMSP provide extended professional development courses in both mechanics and statistics for teachers to plug subject knowledge gaps and look at teaching ideas. The TS1 focuses on the statistics content in AS and A Level Maths.
Share your feedback on the A Level Maths reform below, or join us at our A Level Maths Teachers’ Network webinar on 23 November 2023 at 4–5.30pm. Also look out for our full programme of professional development webinars for 2023/24.
If you have any questions, you can email us at email@example.com, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up to subject updates to receive the latest maths news, updates and resources.
Steven originally studied engineering before completing a PGCE in secondary mathematics. He has taught secondary maths in England and overseas. Steven joined OCR in 2014 and worked on the redevelopment of OCR’s A Level Mathematics suite of qualifications. Away from the office he enjoys cooking and travel.