The new Project Maths course is well and truly upon us at this stage. This initiative is probably here to stay, given the amount of time and money that has been put into it. This year's cohort was in the precarious position of having to try and understand the 'Project Maths way' in just two years.
Most teachers would agree that it would have been more beneficial for Project Maths to be introduced to only first years initially, with these students working their way up through the system, building on the concepts from the foundation up. Now that the results are out for the class of 2012, the statisticians have gone into overdrive after a quiet summer.
So what kind of results were achieved this year, what are their implications and what kind of reaction have they got thus far?
Firstly, an increase in the numbers opting for Higher Level Maths was anticipated. Almost all of them (98 per cent) received the additional 25 bonus CAO points because they achieved a D3 or higher in the subject. In other words, 98 per cent of students who took the Higher Level paper passed it.
This should give great encouragement and reassurance to students that are in two minds whether to take this level going forward. In specific terms, 3,000 students (23 per cent) who did Honours Maths will benefit (in relation to a college place) from the new bonus points initiative.
This would indicate to me that different or additional measures may still need to be introduced, something the Minister for Education needs to look at after the fallout from this year's results and points race.
Looking through the available exam papers, the length of some of the questions has increased significantly. Those schools that haven't done so already may need to introduce a double maths class on their senior cycle timetable.
In parallel, I envisage a situation where schools may start investing Transition Year maths time to teach some of the Project Maths syllabus and concepts. The marking scheme will be interesting, too, with the new credit system seeing students being marked from zero up.
At present, there are a number of graded versions inside the marking scheme. After we see how this year's papers are marked, these schemes may need to be adjusted and, indeed, will become more relevant to teachers and students.
I welcome the Department's initiative to create a 'Professional Diploma in Mathematics' course. This is a free two-year course to up-skill maths teachers and to support the implementation of Project Maths.
There is an incentive there for many maths teachers to improve their skills and the Department has, in fairness, improved the resources available to teachers via the Project Maths team.
For the students themselves, social media has allowed them to feedback openly on the new course. The idea of being able to write on the paper is clearly one they welcome. However, the question must be asked: will the length of a student's answer be influenced by the amount of space allocated for each sub question?
Unfortunately, I think a weaker student could be drawn into the idea that a small amount of space for a question might mean a very short solution is required. From doing out exam questions with my students over the last few years, we have, on numerous occasions, had to use the 'extra' grid pages at the back of the paper. This is a concern. Also, students must be given enough room to write their answers to a particular part of a question on the same or next page.
One of the biggest challenges for the classroom maths teacher going forward is time. At the moment, like any new course, it's hard to gauge how much time to spend on each topic and sub topic. Teachers will learn, as each year passes, to structure the course better, including the topic order and timeline.
They will learn to choose the best paths through each topic while keeping a closer eye on the syllabus than ever before. However, I believe that both the higher and ordinary level courses in their current format may now be too long.
In general, we, as maths teachers, are still a little sceptical about Project Maths. There is also a concern about some topics that have been removed from the syllabus that may be necessary for some mathematically-related University courses.
The survey of 253 members of the Irish Maths Teachers Association (IMTA) is the first of its kind into the new, more hands-on way of teaching maths.
Over 77 per cent thought students would benefit if maths teaching in schools was combined with industrial visits to view real-life application of maths. Let's call it the 'Projectile Maths' approach.
However, the government has little money to spend. Therefore, it is incumbent on industry to support the work of maths teachers as much as possible to bolster the effectiveness of the Project Maths development.
- Joe McCormack.
• Joe McCormack is a maths, ICT and geography teacher at Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16. He lives at Canterbrook, Trim Road, Navan.
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