The new GCSE maths qualifications bring with them a far greater proportion of questions designed to test students’ ability to reason mathematically and solve problems, a situation resulting from a concerted strategy by the DfE to raise the level of demand. Many teachers up and down the country will be scratching their heads over how to embed this into classroom practice and with that in mind, this is the first in a series of blogs exploring the role of problem solving in the new GCSE and the implications for teaching and learning.
Problem solving is not a new thing; many teachers already have an expectation that students attempt to reason mathematically in their lessons, but there has been little incentive when it comes to exam preparation to go beyond the teaching of key skills (particularly to borderline students). In the new GCSEs roughly a third of the papers will address problem solving, with a further third examining students ability to communicate mathematically. The result is that the “key skills” questions will take up a far smaller proportion of the exams now and the papers will be less predictable as a consequence.
So how should teachers respond to this change in emphasis? It’s not as straightforward as dusting down open ended resource packs and building “T-Totals” projects back into schemes of work; the ability to solve these kinds of problems, while definitely desirable, is not relevant to answering questions on the new GCSE exams (that’s not to say students shouldn’t experience this kind of work, but only as part of a more holistic approach to maths teaching). On top of this, I can think back to lessons during my time in the classroom, where full of excitement and enthusiasm I outlined a brilliant and inspiring (if I do say so myself!) group based, open ended task; set my students into action, and was immediately faced with a sea of blank faces and raised hands belonging to students too daunted by the freedom of the task and too scared to try something in case it didn’t work out first time.
Clearly a considerable amount of thought and preparation time will be needed to create a program of study that gives students the best chance of performing in the 2017 exams and beyond. In my next blog I will explore some strategies in more detail and in the meantime, please share your thoughts on GCSE problem solving in the comments section.
Darren Macey - Subject Specialist - Mathematics
I joined OCR in April 2014 as a Subject Specialist within OCR’s Maths and Technical team, currently I am involved in the development of reformed A Levels in Maths and Further Maths, and commission the creation of resources and CPD events. I also look after the OCR (MEI) A Level course (3890, 3892, 7890 and 7892), as well as the OCR Maths Twitter account and podcast.
I taught maths in a variety of secondary schools in the East of England and also taught PE after coaching rugby, cricket and football. I spend most of my spare time in training for triathlons and endurance events.