After reading the Examiners’ Reports in great detail it is clear that the mechanics questions appear to have been challenging for students, so I’d like to offer you some approaches that may help when it comes to teaching mechanics.
The 2019 A Level Maths series was, of course, the first full assessment following the reformed qualification so my focus is on both:
OCR Mathematics A (H230/H240) and
OCR Mathematics B (MEI) (H630/H640)
The Examiners' Reports provides a detailed commentary on the A Level Maths cohort’s approach to the whole exam paper, followed by an analysis of the paper question by question.
If you want to know more, we’ve a specific blog to help with tips about how you can make the Examiners' Reports work for you.
You can access the full reports with your Interchange login. If you’d like to request access to Interchange everything you need to know is on our website.
In the legacy A Level Maths, many centres did not offer mechanics (choosing instead to offer S1 and D1) and of those centres that did M1, the majority delivered it in year 13.
Mechanics was also identified as one of the Big 4 changes of the reform. To support teachers during the reform in 2017 we published a recording of our webinar ‘Teaching mechanics’ - part of a series of events for the Festival of A Level Mathematics.
There is a perception among students that you need to be good at physics to succeed here, when in fact the prior knowledge that underpins mechanics can be seen in everyday life, for example:
The rest of the content simply builds upon the GCSE (9-1) Mathematics work on kinematics and the understanding of gradient and area under the graph of velocity-time graphs.
Mechanics does build upon the pure content more directly than statistics, so this can cause problems for students that are not yet confident with the underlying pure maths and provides some of the rationale for the common legacy approach of leaving M1 until year 13.
An alternative approach to explore with your students could be to get them to embrace mechanics as a concrete, real-life example of the abstract pure maths, as shown in the below calculus example.
The use of ‘hands-on’ experiments and computer simulations can support students' understanding of the pure content alongside the mechanics.
For a selection of useful resources, you can work with, see the delivery guides within the planning and teaching section on the qualification pages for Mathematics A and Mathematics B.
Questions set in context always add an extra dimension to maths problems. In mechanics, the situation often needs to be translated into algebra first and then the calculations performed.
Encouraging your students to visualise the problem in a sketch can help to focus their minds.
Let's look at Q10(a) from the Mathematics A H240/03 Sample assessment material as an example.
Here an initial sketch of the context can then be used to determine a force diagram, from which the algebra can be stated.
This allows a sense check between the directions of each force and the arithmetic.
The subsequent algebraic manipulation is not too complex. Whilst mark schemes may not explicitly reward a diagram, any sign errors made by a student can be quickly identified to support the awarding of partial credit.
Mechanics should not be seen as a separate subject to pure maths, students should be encouraged to recognise that it is simply the application of the pure content to everyday events. The use of careful diagrams helps visualise the mathematical model and provides a sense check of the generated equations.
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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 originally studied engineering before completing a PGCE in secondary mathematics.