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IB prejudice

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by David Getling, Jan 24, 2011.

  1. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    I wasn't calling the exam system a luddite. I was refering to it being a misrepresentation of the facts if I called you one. What I was saying was that its penchant to lower its standards is outdated and makes it devalued.
    Please try and keep up.
    Nope, I never argued that A Level was unchanging. It is generally accepted that A Level courts whatever the lowest common denominator is at any given time and is more than happy to divest itself of its previous standards at the drop of a hat.
    Read my first response again.
    I am heart broken. I was so looking forward to working with you.
    And here we go again... I say it is, you say it isn't, I say it is, you say it isn't, I say...
    The most amusing thing about this whole conversation is that I work in a school that really doesn't put the exam anywhere near the centre. My school sits no external exams in maths until the kids reach the final year of IB. No IGCSE etc. etc. We have complete freedom to work as we see appropriate.
    Can many schools, anywhere, say the same?

     
  2. I don't think it is the purpose of STEP (or IMO) papers to reflect what is taught in university Maths papers, but rather to help identify those with strong-to-exceptional problem-solving ability like yourself. It is not supposed to be for everyone. The "old fashioned" style of questioning was much more challenging than today's (I have posted past paper questions from the 1920s and 1930s on other threads - one of which was unfortunately deleted - to make this clear). I would have thought that the kind of student that would do well in STEP would probably be fairly capable of preparing for the exams themselves without requiring additional support. I didn't take the STEP papers as my college didn't require them, but I did take the Further Maths "Special Paper" back in 1988, and was pretty much left to my own devices in preparing for it. If someone gets extra support, then good for them if it helps them to achieve their potential. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that the purpose of education is (or at least ought to be) that it should help students achieve their potential, whatever level that happens to be.
    - Sabbir
     
  3. ian60

    ian60 New commenter

    Now that sounds good!
    Incidently, what criteria do you use to nudge those kids who may have opted for the wrong level, into the more appropriate level...
     
  4. DM

    DM New commenter

    What is a Cambridge agenda?
    I work at a bog standard comprehensive and my further maths students are able to grade in STEP with little assistance from me. They mostly get 2s and 3s with the occasional 1. My stepson did STEP with no help from me or his school (they had never entered a student for STEP before - had never heard of it in fact) and he got a 1 and a 2. It is definitely possible for bright A Level students (particularly further mathematics) to access this qualification. Obviously the more past papers they do they better.
     
  5. Golly gosh, did I say all that.
    'I don't think it is the purpose of STEP (or IMO) papers to reflect what is taught in university Maths papers, but rather to help identify those with strong-to-exceptional problem-solving ability like yourself. It is not supposed to be for everyone. '
    No, but I'm not sure that you understand that what is taught at university these days no longer requires strong-to-exceptional problem-solving ability. You seem to be behind the times.
     
  6. Well DM, you may think you teach at a bgc, but I know better.
    Even the best bgc in cheshire can't seriously prepare kids for STEP.
    Get real.
     
  7. Obviously. Did your stepson work with past papers or not?
     
  8. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    This is off topic, but I'd be really interested in what you mean by this. It's a very worrying statement, because it's the problem solving that makes maths fun and interesting. It's also one of the ways we sell maths to students - a good degree in maths demonstrates good problem solving skills - and such skills are always in demand by employers.
     
  9. 'This is off topic, but I'd be really interested in what you mean by this. It's a very worrying statement, because it's the problem solving that makes maths fun and interesting. It's also one of the ways we sell maths to students - a good degree in maths demonstrates good problem solving skills - and such skills are always in demand by employers.'
    Yes worrying isn't it. For the majority of universities in this country, getting a reasonable grade at A-level maths is sufficient for admission to a Maths degree course. Then you get a good degree and most employers would expect you to be good at problem solving. The trouble is that all you have done is gone to lectures and reproduced for the exam pretty much what was on the previous year's paper.
     
  10. As DM said, they get little to no help from him, so I'd assume it's not the school preparing people for STEP. But there's always self-study.


    One thing to realise is that with the internet there are a lot more resources available for STEP preparation than there were when we did A-levels. 20 years ago, I remember searching high and low for example papers, etc, and finding actual worked solutions was almost unheard of. And pretty much no-one would be able to help - the teachers couldn't do the questions themselves (or at least not quickly enough to help in spare time).


    There are forums now with 20 years of past papers and worked solutions, and enough Oxbridge graduates that if you're stuck someone can usually help or check your solutions. You still need to work at it, and you still need ability, but it's quite different from the situation when I was studying for S-levels.


    Disclosure: I moderate one such forum and give quite a lot of help with STEP.
     
  11. You sound like a useful resource.
    But heck there are loads of really able kids out there
    that will never get to hear of you. Don't forget that there
    are teachers who are frightened of bright kids and will sort
    of brush them them under the carpet.

     
  12. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    That is quite sad.
    There is also the type of teacher who ONLY likes bright kids and belittles those who cannot keep up and the type of teacher who likes to show-off his or her own erudition in lessons, rather than let the kids discover the maths.
     
  13. In point of fact, if a student has access to the internet, then anyone spending an afternoon researching STEP would probably come across the forum - it is on the first page of results if you google "step exams", for example.

    I can't speak about schools where bright kids are swept under the carpet, as I've never experienced it myself. But I can't see that counts as a bog standard comprehensive, either. (In my experience comps get desperately excited at the idea of someone getting into Oxbridge).

    But if you can put the work in, I think state school entrants really have a much better chance than in the past. (I honestly have no idea how more than a handful of comp students would ever get in under the old CCE. I'm sure I wouldn't have, and I got a very high first at Cambridge).

    The thing I find most worrying are the schools who know that Jill is way better at maths than anyone they've had for years, getting 90% in her modules, and tell her "you don't need to prepare for STEP, it's the same material as A-level". Because a few weeks before the exam (or worse, during the exam itself) is not the time to discover you should have started preparing 6 months ago. And my personal experience is that schools really do do this...
     
  14. 'is not the time to discover you should have started preparing 6 months ago.'
    The best independents start '2 or 3 years ago'. That is the problem.
     
  15. ian60

    ian60 New commenter

    with polecat, though probably more wobbly than s(h)e would have intended.
     
  16. DM

    DM New commenter

    I think I know my school and my students better than you Polecat. We are a bgc in every way - typical SEN and FSM, middle of the league tables and within 1% of national attainment in mathematics at GCSE. The only thing that is unusual about us is that we have large year groups (15 form entry) which might be why I get to teach a handful of bright Sixth Formers each year.
    You never used to appear crochety like this.
     
  17. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    While there may not be external exams, there are internal ones. These provide an initial reality check. We still get students who think they can do higher or standard when the level is unsuitable for them. Except for the completely unrealistic, we more or less allow them to decide for themselves. We then find that by natural selection - and with the advice of tutors, university guidance counsellors, the director of studies and other knowledgeable bodies - that the students more or less place themselves at appropriate levels within a 6 week period of the course starting.
    Of course there are some that do not wish to move and there are those who decide at the end of their first year that their university choices have changed and they can drop down a level. We can live with that. Their parents are informed every step of the way what the school feels is appropriate, but if a good SL student wishes to take higher then so be it. The problem can be that the average HL Maths student also takes HL Physics and the workload starts piling up, and this can have a knock on effect on lowering grades in other subjects. It is at this stage that the tutor steps in and, on occasion, advises on changes to the student's IB program.
    Our most pressing problem is the need to take SL if the students wish to study in a Swiss university. There is no way around this. Also LSE requiring a 7 at HL to take Economics really does not help matters.
     
  18. DM

    DM New commenter

    He couldn't have done more than 10 STEP questions in total as he is fairly lazy (he took STEP I and II) and he read a few pages of the Siklos booklet.
    He did almost all of the OCR past papers for his A Level mathematics and further mathematics modules as I stood over him and made him.
     
  19. It's a problem, but I'm not sure it's that significant. (I am less concerned about a few extra independent applicants getting in than about a bunch of state school applicants getting shafted).

    Overall attitude and peer group is important as well. When I did FM, my school hadn't had someone get into Cambridge (maths) for several years - most years no-one would even apply. And then in our year, there were 4 of us looking to apply, and we all got in. There's no question in my mind that actually having people to work with, and measure yourself against, made a big difference. And that's another huge advantage for the independent schools.

    But I don't think STEP itself is the problem, and I don't really think STEP is excessively hard, If you're prepared to do 15 years of past papers (300+ questions, say), then you'll either be ready for the exams, or chances are you've reached your limit and independent coaching isn't going to help much. Yes, there are lots of useful tricks that you get taught at a top independent, but there are lots of useful tricks posted on the internet too.
     
  20. DM

    DM New commenter

    I completely agree. Any bright student who is interested in their education would surely Google one of the topics or qualifications at some point and would inevitably find themselves on this site. I never tell my students about it but they frequently mention they have been there.
     

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