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Enhancing teacher pedagogy of a post-16 maths qualification via an online ‘Core Maths’ platform

Written by: Stephen Lee and Terry Dawson
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Stephen Lee and Terry Dawson, Mathematics in Education and Industry, UK

Core Maths is a general title for a range of Level 3 (post-16) maths qualifications that were introduced for first examination in 2016. It is intended for students who have passed GCSE mathematics at grade 4 or better, but who have not chosen to study AS or A-level mathematics (see Dawson et al., 2016; Baldwin and Glaister, 2018). The qualification was developed with the intention that it should be suitable for over 250,000 students in post-16 education, and over 9,000 students studied Core Maths in 2019 (Mathieson et al., in press).

Background

In 2016, the government commissioned Professor Sir Adrian Smith to undertake an external review into post-16 mathematics. Core Maths was widely discussed in the final report (Smith, 2017). Recommendation 9 stated that there should be a centrally funded Core Maths (support) programme, to help to embed the new qualification and upskill large numbers of teachers of other quantitative subjects to teach Core Maths. Subsequently, the Department for Education ran an open tender for an Advanced Mathematics Support Programme (AMSP). Educational charity Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) won the tender to deliver the programme between 2018 and 2021.

Since 2018, the AMSP have been developing a new ‘online learning environment’ to support the teaching of Core Maths. Due to the project being funded by the Department for Education, all resources within the ‘Core Maths platform’ are free to state schools/colleges in England.

This article considers the construction of the resources and associated teaching and learning shaped by the Core Maths platform and discusses feedback from teachers who took part in trials of the resources.

Creating and trialling the Core Maths platform in year one

Initial development of the platform (hosted within a Moodle virtual learning environment) began in mid-2018. This involved determining what type of activities worked for the new-style Core Maths qualification and what didn’t. A standard feedback cycle was used, whereby a limited number of resources were initially developed, these were then piloted with a small number of schools/colleges, and then the feedback from teachers and students was used to inform further development. Thirty-one schools/colleges took part in the trialling and almost all provided feedback.

A short technical point to reiterate: Core Maths is a general title for a range of Level 3 (post-16) maths qualifications. Consequently, there are different specifications from different awarding bodies, which have slightly different content. For the Core Maths platform, a set of ‘generic’ resources that covered multiple specifications was initially created in the first year of development.

At the end of year one (2018–19), some of the key findings from trialling were:

  • Teachers wanted resources that were closely aligned to their chosen specification/awarding body’s qualification
  • Students liked the instant feedback from the auto-marked activities, but were less keen on online learning activities that required free text responses and were not auto-marked
  • Poor user experience and technical difficulties have a very negative effect on engagement.

Reflecting upon the developments and feedback from the first year, the platform was restructured into qualification-specific courses called ‘tailored courses’ for year two (2019–20). The general format for each course is the same and incorporates:

a. An introductory teacher section, which has:

  • a forum for teachers to share their thoughts with other teachers and/or the resource designers
  • three short professional development sections
  • a feedback activity where teachers can contribute to the refinement of the resources by sharing their thoughts with the platform designers.

b. The teaching and learning materials are divided into content sections consisting of:

  • teacher resources – lesson plans, presentations, editable files (such as Excel spreadsheets and GeoGebra), student activities and answers
  • student resources – student activities, worksheets, GeoGebra and spreadsheet files
  • interactive study packages – these are auto-marked self-study materials
  • tests – auto-marked section tests (most sections, not all).

Feedback from year two of the Core Maths platform development

Throughout the second year, more teachers were given access to the developing Core Maths platform (over and above the 31-year one trial schools). However, as planned in the development schedule, full coverage of all specifications was not in place by the time a second round of feedback took place. In addition, not all of those with logins were using the resources at the time of us seeking feedback, i.e. they wouldn’t be teaching any of the specific topics that had resources in the platform between September 2019 and January 2020.

In January 2020, we sought comment from this new group of ‘general users’, which totalled 148. They were invited to complete a short survey to provide feedback on their engagement with the site. This online survey was used as a basic additional tool, over and above the on-going detailed feedback from the specific 31 trial schools. Twenty-nine responses were received (a 20 per cent response rate), providing some extra insight into the wider use of the emerging resources site. Some of the key points from the survey responses were:

  • Seventy-five per cent (of 28 respondents) rated the effectiveness of the revised Core Maths platform in helping them to deliver Core Maths as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’
  • Almost 70 per cent (of 29 respondents) reported using the platform ‘daily’ or at least ‘weekly’
  • Most frequently, teachers used the platform as a source of classroom resources or additional exercises.

Teachers who completed the survey indicated that ‘resource content’ should remain the highest priority for development, with ‘appearance and navigation’ the next most important. There was also support for more resources aimed specifically at revision to be developed – these are in the plan for after full curriculum coverage is achieved.

Teachers cited that they made good use of the various resource types available, including:

“My favourite activities are the match-up card-sort ones, the students really like these and engage with them well.”

“Videos have been a good hook… the lesson based on the videos was really interesting.”

Others made positive comments on the functionality, including:

“Helpful that you can reorder the pupils in terms of their score for each individual section. It’s also great that you can export this information.”

“It is great that if you begin the interactive learning with the H5P software but don’t complete it in one sitting, when you return, it takes you straight back to where you last got up to.”

The help that the platform gave to teachers in managing the learning was also mentioned, including:

“It gives immediate feedback on where they have got up to and allows me to ask questions like “Looks like you understand the topic, well done, but which bit caused you that bit of trouble?”

“Students who claim they know what they are doing are able to skip the video and answer the questions as part of a mini test. They can also rewind a bit and practise particular areas they are weak on.”

There was opportunity for teachers to feed back on prospective enhancements and give insights into how they could make better use of the site, including:

“I prefer resources (worksheets, etc.) and for me to do the teaching part rather than clickthrough slides.”

“Final assessment is a written examination. While it is useful to have computer-led lessons, the balance needs addressing.”

Having a second round of trialling once coverage of the curriculum had increased, via the on-going feedback from the trial schools as well as additional insights from newer users through the online survey, proved useful for enabling improvements to be made.

Key ideas and future plans

This brief article describes ongoing development work to create and trial a set of online resources specifically to help support teachers to deliver a new post-16 mathematics qualification. It was created to complement an offer of face-to-face and online professional development for Core Maths.

The process employed to create the Core Maths platform reaffirms the idea that small-scale piloting and trialling is a vital element to the development of successful support materials for teachers. While the 20 per cent response rate to our online survey was low, our main source of regular and detailed feedback came from the dedicated ‘trial schools’.

Getting the interface right, including both navigation and materials, is often a low priority, but is vital for the overall user experience of teachers and students. Having end users encounter the online site as it develops enables continued refinement to be made. A few aspects stood out as particularly useful in this work, including:

  • a reminder of the ‘hidden’ time needed by teachers to ‘review’ the materials, e.g. quality of video content – it may be a teacher’s first time through as a new qualification
  • being clear about knowing what was included, i.e. what students were going to cover in an easily viewable way.

This is part of a two-year trial, which is coming to an end. As the development of the Core Maths platform has taken place, access has been opened up to more and more teachers. Access is free to state schools/colleges; further details can be found at: amsp.org.uk/register.

Level 3 Core Maths is different to AS/A-levels and so is the teacher pedagogy underpinning it. This needs nurturing during the early years of the new qualification, and evidence suggests that the online platform can be a useful tool to support this.

References

Baldwin C and Glaister P (2018) Core Maths – a call to action. The Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications Mathematics Today 54(5): 194–196.

Dawson T, Lee S and Dudzic S (2016) Developing new quantitative reasoning and quantitative problem-solving qualifications with post 16 students. In: 13th International Congress on Mathematical Education, Hamburg, Germany, 24–31 July 2016.

Mathieson R, Homer M, Tasara I et al. (in press) ‘Core Maths chooses you; you don’t choose Core Maths.’ The positioning of a new mathematics course within the post-16 curriculum in England. The Curriculum Journal. Epub ahead of print 4 February 2020. DOI: 10.1002/curj.30.

Smith A (2017) Report of Professor Sir Adrian Smith’s review of post-16 mathematics. London: Department for Education. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/630488/AS_review_report.pdf (accessed 3 July 2020).

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