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Secondary Magazine - Issue 11

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 30 May 2008 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 13 August 2008 by ncetm_administrator

Secondary Magazine

Welcome to issue 11 of the NCETM Secondary Magazine. Discover our fortnightly features - some regulars and some new. Why not let us know what you want to see in forthcoming issues. If you have thoughts to share you can also add your comments on the portal. 
Goodbye Coursework
Painted cube, Max Box, Mayfield High School, Borders, Equable shapes…. Doesn’t it seem strange to think that these familiar tasks may soon be part of mathematical history?

As our current Year 11 pupils sit their GCSEs, we look forward to a future without coursework and while most teachers have welcomed the change, it is worth reconsidering the intentions of coursework within mathematics, trying to capture the essence of this aspect of the mathematics GCSE and giving some thought to what teachers will do to give pupils those opportunities in their current curriculum.

“GCSE coursework, excellent in principle, hasn't worked well in practice. So school
students are unaware of the excitement of studying maths and the opportunities it
brings.” (Tony Mann, Head of Department of Mathematical Sciences, The University of Greenwich)

The GCSE replaced ‘O’ Levels and CSEs for first teaching from 1986. To start with, coursework was optional but soon became compulsory. Schools could produce their own tasks for coursework which were marked to exam board criteria. It was possible to sit a ‘coursework paper’ as an alternative to coursework produced in the classroom. Students first completed the compulsory data handling piece of coursework in 2001. QCA said:

“The open-ended nature of the data handling exercise at GCSE left some candidates
frustrated: there was no sense of completion since the exercise lent itself to continual
development. The significant written element in this exercise was felt to disadvantage the candidates who were good at mathematics but poor at written English.” (A review of GCE and GCSE coursework arrangements, QCA 2005)

A piece of coursework was intended to assess the skills of problem solving and investigation which cannot be assessed in a formal examination. It was thought that pupils who do not perform well in examinations would have an opportunity to show their potential in a different sort of assessment. The timing of a coursework task – spread over several lessons – would allow pupils the time to reflect on their learning, consider alternative strategies and communicate their findings; these skills would be assessed more appropriately away from the  strict time pressure of an examination. Coursework offers pupils the opportunity to complete a mathematical investigation, to find out something for themselves and experience the enjoyment of mathematics – so what happened?

In the current GCSE, coursework tasks account for 20% of the final marks – as this can make the difference of a grade it has become an important component of the exam. Most pupils do not regard the idea of mathematical investigation as an integral part of their ongoing mathematical education but a bolt-on extra for the exam.

What next?
So what will you do with the extra curriculum time gained? How will you give pupils the opportunity to solve problems and experience the pleasure of mathematical discovery? The challenge is still there.

Mathematics equips pupils with uniquely powerful ways to describe, analyse and change the world. It can stimulate moments of pleasure and wonder for all pupils when they solve a problem for the first time, discover a more elegant solution, or notice hidden connections. Pupils who are functional in mathematics and financially capable are able to think independently in applied and abstract ways, and can reason, solve problems and assess risk. Mathematics is a creative discipline. The language of mathematics is international. The subject transcends cultural boundaries and its importance is universally recognised. Mathematics has developed over time as a means of solving problems and also for its own sake. (QCA Key Stage 3 Programme of Study 2008)

 QCA Key Stage 3 Programme of Study 2008 (in PDF format)

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Secondary Focus - Portal Tour  
Visit the Secondary Magazine Archive

Browse... Issue 11
Homepage, The Interview, Around the regions, An idea for the classroom, 5 things to do, The Diary, Focus on

Browse... PD Activities
Self-evaluation, Why do we teach mathematics?, Learning mathematics in my school, Pathways and options at KS3 to KS5, Mathematical Vocabulary, Revision, Group Work, C/D Borderline, Planning teaching and learning, Technology for learning

The Diary - real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader


5 things to do


The Diary - real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader


Focus on the equals sign


The Interview - a mathematical profile of Mark McCourt


An idea for the classroom


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