Amy Dai, Maths Subject Advisor
Back in 2015 there was curiosity and uncertainty about the larger role problem solving would take in the new reformed GCSE (9-1) Maths. Darren Macey, OCR Subject Specialist in Mathematics, discussed this at the time in a series of blogs, The problem with problem solving part 1, part 2, and part 3. In the first of two blogs I will look back at how this uncertainty resolved itself, and particularly how problem solving has taken shape in the classroom.
When the GCSE (9-1) Maths qualification was reformed, one of the key areas of change was the shift in the focus of Assessment Objectives (AOs), to concentrate more on problem solving skills. In mathematics there are three AOs that underpin the qualifications:
On the legacy GCSE, the proportion of AO3 questions varied between 15-20% on both the Foundation and Higher tier papers. After the reform, these proportions increased to 25% on Foundation papers and 30% on Higher papers.
There were two main concerns about the increased emphasis on problem solving.
The first concern was around how intimidating students found problem-solving questions to be. Many teachers have planned an exciting and inspiring open-ended task for a lesson, only to be met with blank faces and students too scared to start in case they chose the ‘wrong’ methods. How can teachers overcome this challenge and change student attitudes towards problem solving?
The second concern was centred around planning and embedding problem solving into lessons. How can teachers scaffold and deliver tasks that build students’ problem-solving skills without turning it into another rote learning activity?
Problem solving has been embedded into many regular resources used in the classroom now, with textbooks having dedicated problem-solving questions signposted in activities. Teachers are embracing activities which require students to take more initiative in directing their own approach to questions. Careful interweaving of scaffolded questions and unstructured problems help students to develop these skills alongside learning the content required. There has been a substantial uptick in activities that focus on problem-solving skills on resource websites such as TES. These can be used alongside existing problems and puzzles such as those found on Nrich.
However, there is still a lot of progress to be made. OFSTED’s July 2023 report highlights the disparity in time spent teaching mathematics problem solving versus enabling pupils to pass examinations. Right now, the amount of problem solving that is taught in the classroom is generally up to individual teachers. This piecemeal approach is disadvantaging some students and leading to inconsistency within the national cohort.
Our curriculum planners on Teach Cambridge (login required) have links to problem-solving activities throughout to help integrate problem solving into the delivery of the full range of GCSE content.
Our test-building platform, ExamBuilder, can be used to source problem-solving questions by filtering on the assessment objective, AO3. This enables you to produce customised tests and mark schemes containing problem-solving questions on any topic quickly and easily. For help in accessing ExamBuilder or tips on creating, saving, sharing and exporting tests, please refer to our ExamBuilder FAQs.
To learn more about student performance in problem-solving questions, browse our professional development courses or sign up for upcoming GCSE (9-1) Maths network events.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at email@example.com, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up for monthly email updates to receive information about resources and support.
Amy joined OCR in 2023 after teaching for five years in both state and independent schools. She provides support across all the OCR Maths qualifications, but with a focus on GCSE, A Level Maths and Further Maths. She graduated from the University of York with a degree in Mathematics and Economics before gaining a PGCE in Secondary Mathematics and an MA in Education.