Hazel Pilling teaches OCR A Level Maths B (MEI) and Further Maths B (MEI) at Exeter College in Devon.
One year into teaching the new specifications, Hazel shares her experience of the transition and explains why her students enjoy the course.
Exeter College has taught Maths with OCR for a number of years. Teachers looked at other exam boards before the move to linear A Levels but chose to stay with OCR.
“We previously taught OCR A Level Maths B and got on well with it. The questions were contextualised which is good for preparing students for after college. For the new specification we’ve chosen OCR B again. Part of the reason is the range of resources. The Integral website and textbooks are really good, and OCR offer lots of support.”
The college wanted the same specification for Maths and Further Maths, so that students could get used to the phrasing of the exam questions.
“We liked OCR’s question style. They seemed to have really thought about what students would be capable of doing in the time given. We also liked the way that Further Maths is structured. There are more options for Further Maths with OCR than with the other exam boards.”
New qualifications bring uncertainty, but Hazel’s experience of the new linear A Levels has been positive. She was pleased to discover that the new specifications felt familiar.
“A lot of the content is similar to the old specifications. It didn’t feel too much of a change moving over. There is more content than previously and some areas are new to first year teaching.”
Meeting new content in Year 1 of A Level can be daunting. But Hazel points out that student consolidate this learning in Year 2. She also feels that a linear approach may benefit some learners.
“Maths is a subject which builds on itself. At the moment the linear approach doesn’t feel too different. We often find that our students work harder in the second year, so it might be helpful for them to be assessed on everything.”
Hazel enjoys teaching the new A Level content, which encourages her students to think, act and communicate mathematically.
“Some of the things that I’ve enjoyed teaching, the students find challenging. I’ve enjoyed exponentials logarithms…and hypothesis testing.”
Technology has helped students get to grips with the new specifications.
“It’s been nice using more technology to teach. We use different bits of software to demonstrate certain aspects of the course such as online graphing and GeoGebra. The students enjoy using graphical calculators …and Excel for large data sets. ”
Many first year students also study Further Maths. Hazel has found that the two A Levels are very co-teachable.
“It has been fairly seamless so far. There have been a couple of times where we have had to cover things in Further Maths that haven’t yet been covered in Maths. But that’s not new to us because we mix our Further Maths students with the rest of the cohort… it gives them something to aspire to.”
With over 270 students studying Maths at Exeter, delivering the courses is a challenge of scale. The college has benefitted from OCR’s training and support, including in-school CPD, which has helped teachers get to grips with the new specifications.
“OCR is pretty good with the support that they’ve been running for the new A Levels. They’ve come into college a few times this year and we’ve had people from other schools join us which has been useful.”
Hazel and her team use resources from the Integral and OCR websites to teach and assess the new content.
“There are lots of things up there from lesson ideas and examples to worksheets and also online tests which I know the students find useful as a revision aid. OCR have also produced practice papers so that our students have an idea of what to expect in the exam.”
Hazel also uses OCR’s ExamBuilder to create bespoke exam papers for her students. She describes the free mock assessment service as “useful and easy to use.”
Hazel feels that the new Maths A Levels will help students to fulfil their potential, promoting confidence and providing a strong foundation for further study or careers.
“We have quite a mix of students. The majority will go to university but some progress to apprenticeships, work or training. Maths is a good subject to do. It’s something that is going to be useful regardless of what they do after college.”
Perhaps most importantly, students are really engaged with the course, and enjoy the new specifications.
“There is a lot of good Maths in the new A Levels…it’s nice to introduce students to concepts that they haven’t met previously at GCSE. They like differentiation and integration – being able to make exact calculations. That’s a powerful thing…. It’s good that there is something new that they can get their teeth into.”