The new maths GCSE: fresh approach includes problem solving

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: Accelerating Progress

Mike Randall, maths teacher at Malmesbury School and author, ASDAN’s new Accelerating Progress maths course, which is aimed at helping learners gain a grade 4 or 5 in the new, more demanding GCSE, writes

I’ve witnessed structural changes to GCSE maths throughout my career, but nothing on the scale of the last few years’ developments, culminating in the new specification exams which students sat for the first time last summer. The new GCSE in England undoubtedly poses a significant challenge for many learners.

The maths content itself isn’t necessarily more difficult – the added complexity relates to the greater problem-solving element of the exam questions.

The new GCSE was developed in response to requests from employers for more students to be able to apply their knowledge in a real-life context, and a desire to introduce more rigour. One of the main results is that in the new GCSE many questions are more contextual, meaning students must solve problems rather than simply doing mathematics with no obvious real-world application. This increased problem solving element is something that many students struggle with. They need extra support and resources to develop this skill.

Why a new approach is needed

In the past, you could teach C/D borderline students specific maths skills and they would be able to achieve what was considered to be a good GCSE grade. But because of the added challenge of the new problem solving element, it’s now more difficult for many students to reach good grades.

The solution to this in many schools has been to give learners more mathematics lessons, which can lead to disengagement and increased frustration for both students and teachers.

Many students who are given extra intervention lessons have been taught maths for a long time. They often feel they’re not improving and may be demoralised. So providing more of the same approach through extra intervention lessons doesn’t always work, in my experience.

What learners need is a new approach that’s going to transform their engagement with the subject.

A new path to a good pass

ASDAN’s Accelerating Progress course is a useful example of this, as it approaches the subject in a different way that gives learners a fresh perspective.

Accessible and engaging challenges stimulate learners’ interest in the subject and help them gain experience in problem solving, which in turn will boost their performance as well as enhancing their confidence and motivation.

The course is also well suited to students who have to retake GCSE maths. Such students are often disengaged with the subject and have had a bad experience in class. What they need is a new approach. Students will find it difficult to improve if you keep applying the same methods – they switch off. Just when they thought they were done with maths, they now discover that they have to do it again.

As an example, students are asked to choose two different mobile phone deals for the same model of phone, comparing the cost of each over time and deciding which offers the best value for money. One of the aims of this challenge is for them to understand how to use graphs and estimation to compare real life offers.

The Accelerating Progress course lends itself to the more independent learning undertaken by post-16 students and, as it’s a grown-up approach to the subject, it encourages learners to take control of their own workload. This is an important skill to develop in education and the workplace.

What’s also different is the personalised learning element. The student works with the tutor to decide on challenges to complete – this tailored approach taps into ASDAN’s proven methodology of engaging young people by giving them choice over their learning. Giving young people greater freedom over what they study is proven to engage and motivate them.

I’ve tested all the challenges in the Accelerating Progress course with my own students, so I know they have a proven impact and I can see the benefit this approach brings to many learners.

Giving young people greater freedom over what they study is proven to engage and motivate them

Support students in the new, tougher mathematics GCSE in England, find out more about Accelerating Progress here.

Read on the SSAT blog: You can teach old dogs new tricks: bar modelling in maths

Mike Randall, Malmesbury School

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