It seems amazing that we are already more (now much more than when I started writing this!) than half a term into teaching the new specifications of the A-level. When we planned this half term I was concerned that we had put far too much content in and that we would never get anywhere near completing it all. Remarkably this has not been the case and we finished exactly on schedule.

The way that we have set the scheme of work up has had massive benefits, this has been particularly evident in the linking of topics that were previously kept apart by being almost arbitrarily in different modules. We have found this is useful with the relationships between indices, surds, exponentials and logarithms. This week we have seen this again in teaching binomial expansion and the binomial distribution consecutively.

I am also much more confident that I know how students are coping with the course due to the changes we have made to our assessment structures. For each unit students have completed the online Integral assessment, for which they are provided feedback. This is an automated process where we copy the data from Integral into a spreadsheet which creates a sheet for each student, detailing which questions they have got correct and which they need to redo. Corrections are made on the back of this sheet so that we have a record that they are doing this.

We have also set students the chapter assessments from Integral, which unfortunately don’t mark themselves! These are marked and entered into another spreadsheet, which again provides individualised feedback for the students. This shows students their performance in relation to the rest of the class for each question, so that they can focus their efforts on areas that they need to. It also allows us to see any areas that need revisiting with the whole group.

Where there are significant issues arising from the assessment we are able to run intervention sessions either during form periods (fortunately as Head of Department I do not have a form group) or after school.

Another interesting aspect that we have incorporated into the scheme of work is reading and comprehension tasks. At the end of half term one, as a holiday task, we asked students to read an article from New Scientist and to answer questions based on this. Our aims with our development of our practice in the new course have always been to develop students as mathematicians, not just to allow them to answer the questions in the examination. The article in question looked at prime numbers, particularly into the question of whether there was a pattern in the way they appeared. Students were challenged to answer 6 questions, starting with information taken from the article, then progressing to independent research on the topic. Unfortunately none of the students managed the sixth…

- Define “twin prime”.
- Using the sieve method, which is the largest prime number that needs to be used such that all of the non-primes < 100 are sieved out?
- When does sieve theory struggle?
- Showing your calculations, write down a list of the first 6 Germain Primes (29 is the 7th).
- Write a paragraph of no more than 200 words about either Goldbach’s Conjecture, Germain Primes or the Riemann Hypothesis.
- Solve the Riemann Hypothesis, donating half of your winnings to Mr Hampton and Mr Davies.

The next challenge is to find a suitable article to set for reading over Christmas!