Written by Steven Walker Friday, 04 October 2019
Edited and compiled by Robert J Smith @RJS2212
'Using Technology in A level Mathematics’ ' is a blog from OCR Maths for #MathsConf21 Exhibition / Networking session being run at #MathsConf21.
Using Technology in A level Mathematics
The reformed AS and A level Maths criteria from the DfE (available here) explicitly states that ‘The use of technology, in particular mathematical and statistical graphing tools and spreadsheets, must permeate the study of AS and A level mathematics’. It then goes on to restrict technology in the examination to calculators. This introduces two specific questions:
• Graphic or Scientific? - Will students have a material advantage if they take a graphical calculator into the exam?
• Teaching Technology - Should valuable curriculum time be set aside to teaching the use of computer software when this will not be available in the exam?
Exam questions will still be asked that require the fundamental skills to be demonstrated. To help students understand what a question requires, OCR has defined a list of command words in our A level specifications that make clear the level of mathematical justification needed in exam questions (see the exploring our question paper guides and also our classroom posters for more details, both available from the ‘Assessment Guides’ sections for Maths A and Maths B (MEI)). The real world doesn’t preface a problem with ‘not to be solved with a calculator’, but will often require an answer to be fully justified. The reform criteria, and OCR’s approach, attempts to reflect this transition from mathematics in the classroom to out in the real world.
Graphic or Scientific?
With the increased functionality of scientific calculators (specifically the table function) the only immediate advantage of a graphical calculator is that the results from a table function can be seen graphically rather than sketched by hand. In the reformed A Level assessments, OCR has generally taken the view that if access to the graph of a function would gain an advantage then it will be given in the question paper for all students.
This then leads into the general teaching technology issue; how much classroom time needs to be set aside for teaching calculator skills to ensure candidates will see any advantage of the increased functionality. Teaching the maths alongside the technology means time is not ‘lost’, whilst ensuring students are confident with efficient use.
The power of the hand held calculator, linked to clear demonstrations using an emulator, allows students to visualise families of curves, investigate statistical data and solve numerically equations and calculus problems. Access to full computers in the exam hall is still a way off at the moment, however, students that developed their maths skills using computer software will benefit from a range of learning opportunities. The time saved by investigating automatically generated results rather than hand drawn/manual calculations far outweigh the time needed to teach the software skills. Removing the practical exam in science has not seen a drop in experiments in a good science classroom, so in the same way not having a computer in the exam should not prohibit the use of software in good maths teaching. There are good free graphing apps available for smart phones too, further increasing the opportunity for flipped learning to complement work done in class.
Of course, the best way to minimise the valuable A level teaching time needed to develop technology skills is begin to embed technology within maths from year 7 (or before). Creating curiosity in mathematical patterns doesn’t need to start with the background theory.
You can see OCR in the networking / Exhibitor slots during #MathsConf21 at Peterborough on Saturday 12th October 2019
Don't forget in December we also have our 'FREE' Maths Teacher Network events in association with Oxford University Press and AQA.
We look forward to seeing you at our next La Salle Education Event if you don't already, follow us on Twitter @LaSalleEd
About the Author
Steven Walker, OCR Maths Subject Advisor
Steven joined OCR during the recent qualification reform period, working on the redevelopment of Entry level, GCSE (9-1), FSMQ and the suite of A Level Mathematics qualifications. He now focuses mainly on supporting the level 3 qualifications. Steven has taught secondary mathematics in UK and overseas.