Steven Walker, Maths Subject Advisor
During the reform of A Level Maths there were four key changes that teachers raised as concerns. Will Hornby, OCR Lead on A Level Maths, discussed these in his blog Four big changes to Maths A Level qualifications, first published in December 2016.
In this series of blogs I’ll look back at these four changes. I will take a look through the comments from teachers and from stakeholders and assessors to see the impact over these first few years of the new qualifications, focusing here on the introduction of compulsory mechanics topics.
Anecdotal evidence from teachers that I have spoken to suggests that there is still a statistics/mechanics divide across teachers of A Level Maths, with limited opportunities to pick up classes in the other applied strand unless staff levels force emergency allocation.
There are a significant number of recently qualified maths teachers who did not study mechanics as part of their own A Level Maths when students themselves. The AMSP provide extended professional development courses in both mechanics and statistics for teachers to plug subject knowledge gaps and look at teaching ideas. The TM1 focuses on the mechanics content in AS and A Level Maths.
In the modular qualification it was not unusual for centres to offer M1 in year 13. There is in fact nothing to stop centres from ditching the AS specification as the initial teaching order and leaving the mechanics content for later in the course. Conversely the increased emphasis on the application of algebra, vectors and calculus in the mechanics strand allows this content to be taught much more synoptically as an extension and application of pure mathematics. Although the assessment will not feature this, there is also no reason why practical mechanics lessons could not be used to generate data for some statistical analysis.
Examiners have regularly noted that the best solutions to mechanics problems that they see are those which begin with an annotated diagram. Marks are only directly allocated to diagrams where the question explicitly asks for one to be drawn, however marks will be awarded where the required expressions are seen on a diagram.
Generally, the act of drawing the diagram with annotations to indicate the magnitude and direction of forces, velocity and acceleration ensures all components are considered, avoids sign errors and supports progress to a correct solution. For a summary of observations from examiners on student performance on mechanics see my earlier blog, Ideas to help students who find mechanics hard.
The OCR delivery guides provide teaching notes and links to third party resources which can be found on Teach Cambridge. Also available for formative or diagnostic tests are topic based check in tests and mechanics progress tests.
We are also planning to run specific professional development events focused on mechanics in the 2023/24 academic year.
Share your feedback and teaching ideas related to the mechanics in A Level Maths, or join us at our A Level Maths Teachers’ Network webinar on 23 November 2023 at 4–5.30pm. Also look out for our full programme of professional development webinars for 2023/24.
If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up to subject updates to receive the latest maths news, updates and resources.
Steven originally studied engineering before completing a PGCE in secondary mathematics. He has taught secondary maths in England and overseas. Steven joined OCR in 2014 and worked on the redevelopment of OCR’s A Level Mathematics suite of qualifications. Away from the office he enjoys cooking and travel.