The BBC are reporting that plans to change key subjects, including mathematics, from the current GCSE assessment system to a new, tougher ‘English Baccalaureate Certificate’ and to have a single exam board for each subject are “to be abandoned”.
Further information: Planned switch from GCSEs to Baccalaureate in England ‘abandoned’ at BBC News.
via @RosalindMist on Twitter.
A couple of weeks ago at the HE STEM Conference I saw a keynote lecture by Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. During a questions session following this, I was surprised to be handed the microphone but apparently I had raised my hand. I asked a question. Quite a number of people approached me during the remaining day-and-a-half of the conference to say what a good question it had been so I thought I would share it here.
Sir Alan had spoken about the challenges facing STEM in HE and about the legacy of the National HE STEM Programme. On the latter, reflecting the hope that much of the HE STEM activity will develop into ongoing practice in universities, he said he hoped we wouldn’t think of this as the end but as a beginning. He also spoke about challenges affecting the sector in terms of Goverment initiatives and other factors, and the important of teaching and learning, research, etc. When I was handed the microphone I said into this something like the following.
I was interested that you spoke about looking to the future. I work for a former Higher Education Academy Subject Centre on a project funded by the National HE STEM Programme. So my contract ends tomorrow1. I aspire to being a lecturer who takes a professional research interest in his teaching but almost every job advert I read has number 1 ‘a PhD in mathematics’ and number 2 ‘ability to bring in research income’. So, while I shouldn’t ask such a personal question, I suppose I’m asking: should I acquire a research topic or plan a different career?
I’m afraid that extreme nervousness has made what happened next a bit of a blur. I certainly don’t feel like I got a satisfactory answer and several of the people who congratulated me on my question said as much to me. Perhaps someone who was there will be able to fill in more of the details via the comments.
He, quite rightly, addressed the general point rather than my specific circumstances. He certainly spoke about some universities increasingly making available career routes – both hiring new people and allowing for promotion – based on merit attached to teaching activities, and suggested that I might need to ‘shop around’ to find an institution to suit me. This is true, in that I aware of departments more friendly to my aims and I sometimes meet people who are employed as Teaching Fellows or similar who talk of promotion possibilities linked to teaching achievements. However, the norm is still to hire a researcher who, begrudgingly, indifferently or happily, is required to teach as a secondary objective. This is what I was getting at with my job advert for the University of Excellence.
I should be clear that I am not against mathematical research in any way. It’s just that I am drawn to the challenge of helping people to understand something about mathematics and its applications, and I feel that people who are willing to spend their time and energy on better teaching, outreach, educational research, etc. should have a more prominent place in the system.
1. These are both programmes formally funded by HEFCE so really I was making an unfair swipe here. I hope it didn’t make me seem too much the disgruntled ex-employee but I was a little frustrated at the suggestion that the expiry of the funding for my employment should be viewed as an exciting new beginning.
You may remember Math52, a Kickstarter project from Mathalicious which reached its goal in June. This promised, “every week for a year we’ll create a short video exploring a unique application of math in everyday life”. Now the Mathalicious video series has launched with two videos, both less than two minutes in length, available via YouTube.
The first video, Tip Jar, explores tipping in restaurants.
When we go out to eat at a restaurant, it’s customary to tip as a percent of the total bill. But is this fair? And what are some other ways we might pay waiters & waitresses?
The videos are snappy and nicely produced. The Mathalicious website offers free lesson plans and materials to support the video in the classroom.
YouTube channel: Mathalicious: the Video Series.
Last week we reported that the UK Government have released a draft primary school Programme of Study for mathematics for consultation. A report from the Telegraph quoted in that article mentioned that “the use and multiplication of fractions” was “a vital precursor to studying algebra”. A piece of research published in the journal Psychological Science, ‘Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement‘, investigates this area. The findings indicate the importance of learning about fractions and division by showing that these “uniquely predict” students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement 5 or 6 years later.
The UK Government have released a draft primary school Programme of Study for mathematics for consultation.
The announcement was much covered in the press, which focused on the ‘back to basics’ approach. The Daily Mail reported that “times tables are to be put back at the heart of the curriculum for children’s first years at school for the first time in decades” with other details reported including learning how to calculate using decimal places and fractions, and dealing with numbers up to ten million.
Recent reports from Ofqual and Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) highlight positives in the depth of content and takeup of A-Level Mathematics and Further Mathematics but an Ofsted report finds problems in earlier stage mathematics teaching.
‘Math52: A Fresh Way to Teach’ is a Kickstarter project currently seeking funding. The organisers offer the following promise: “Every week for a year we’ll create a short video exploring a unique application of math in everyday life.” The emphasis is on providing teachers with material to enrich their teaching. You can find out more by watching the video below and visiting the Math52 Kickstarter page.