3 October 2015

A Level Resources #2

This is my second post about my #mathsconf5 workshop. In my previous post I shared some of my favourite A level resources. In this post I'm covering the other key points from my workshop:
1. The demand for resources.
2. Using problems sets.
3. Getting organised (including schemes of work).
I also discuss how to share additional resources with students, which I didn't have time to cover at the conference.

I just want to clarify something before I start - resources are helpful, but in my mind there is nothing more important than clarity of explanation. Good A level teachers have sound subject knowledge and know how to explain things well. Please don't think that my focus on resources at the conference suggests that I think that resources take precedence! They don't. They're nice to have though.

Is the textbook enough? 
I started my workshop by discussing the demand for A level resources. I often use A level textbook exercises for practice in class, but do I need anything else?

To answer that question let's look at my typical lesson structure. I don't do anything revolutionary in my A level teaching - no flipped learning, no inquiry - my style is fairly traditional. I'm not saying this is the best way to teach A level, it's just the way I teach.
In the structure above you can see that I normally start with a skills check and refresher (sometimes an exam question relating to what we did in the last lesson, sometimes a short puzzle or activity), so I need resources at this point. I'll then teach something new and my students will practise that new skill (again, I'll need resources here - a textbook, worksheet or activity). Formative assessment of skills during this activity will help me determine which students need more explanation. Imagine the class splitting into two groups at this point - those who've demonstrated understanding and are developing fluency, and those who need more support (I might need some differentiated activities here). After the lesson I need to do some summative assessment, so I might set a homework which I will take in and mark, or I might assess students in a test on a later date - again, I need resources for these assessment activities. Finally, I tell my students to do ongoing independent practice and I need to point them in the direction of resources for this. So you can see that there are many opportunities to use a variety of resources throughout the lesson. The textbook does not cover all these bases. Thankfully there's loads of brilliant A level resources available - read my previous post for ideas.

In my workshop I shared three activities from MEI and asked delegates to discuss whether they'd use these, and how they could use them. For example I often use the first activity below (Logs True or False by Susan Wall) as a quick refresher (ie a starter), but it also works well for formative assessment (perhaps with mini-whiteboards) and/or basic skills practice.

The coordinate geometry resource above works well in a consolidation lesson - students draw their working diagram in the middle of A3 paper and stick each task (and their answers) around the edge in the order they completed the tasks. The idea is to get them thinking about the information they need to answer each question.

Problem sets
Time is a huge problem in A level teaching. At my previous school we had 8 lessons a fortnight (split 5/3 between two teachers) in both Year 12 and Year 13. This simply was not enough time to teach three modules. I was always rushing through topics and often stressed about running out of time. At my new school we get more time (10 lessons a fortnight in Year 12 and 9 lessons a fortnight in Year 13) - this is much better, though I still feel some time pressure. I'd love to spend time on problem solving but 'getting through the exam specification' takes priority. For the odd occasion when I do get the opportunity to do some problem solving with my students, I've collated a number of problems sets (suitable for GCSE and AS level):
I got the problems from various sources (information listed in the PowerPoints). I normally print the PDFs on A3 paper and get students to work with a partner to solve the problems in any order.
Getting organised
When I was Key Stage 5 Coordinator I went into school during the summer holidays and spent a day downloading and organising hundreds of A level resources. This saves everyone a lot of time and effort during term time. I organised these resources by topic on the school network and added them to my school's A level Schemes of Work. I've moved schools now but took all the files with me (attendees at my conference session were given my extensive C1/C2 resource files as a thank you for coming!).
Extract from C2 Scheme of Work

Some schools don't use schemes of work for A level. It's not a necessity like it is at Key Stage 3 and GCSE. I was lucky that we had excellent schemes of work at my previous school which contained lots of links to resources - these were set up and regularly updated by my colleagues.

At the end of my workshop a delegate asked if I'd share these schemes of work and I promised I would, so here's C1 - C4 for you to borrow and edit. None of the hyperlinks will work in these documents because they were linked to the school network, not the internet, but at least it's a starting point for the structure.

Incidentally, if I were starting a resource collection from scratch then I'd consider using Pinterest or Pealrtrees to hold my collection because I love the 'snapshot' format.

Sharing resources with students
Consider setting up a blog or Twitter account for your students - take students to an IT Room and get them to follow the account or register for email updates to ensure you get an audience. Publish essential information (eg assessment dates, homework deadlines) and give access to resources, tips, enrichment and so on. In the year that I was Key Stage 5 Coordinator, I wrote a Sixth Form Maths Blog - it has been abandoned now I've left the school, which is a shame because I was really proud of it. It was a great way to encourage independent learning and to give students opportunities to improve. Below is an example post so you can see how I shared resources with students. If you want to see an example Twitter account for students, look at @MathsNewVic.

So that's it! I hope these two posts have helped you in creating or enhancing your collection of A level resources. If you attended my workshop I hope you found it useful. Please comment below to share anything good that I've missed - I'd love to see your favourite resources and hear about what you do.


  1. This is really great Jo. I'm glad I'm not alone in how I approach my A-Level lessons. They are as yours are much more about teaching something, practicing, generating questions, practicing more complex examples and then looking at all the past paper questions that we have within that topic.

    I'm only doing it for the second year and most of the students I get have only achieved a B at GCSE so I constantly find myself with all these enriched and deep probing exercises left over at the end of a lesson.

    I have my website that the students can keep referring to whenever they are stuck but this year I have taken to sending out a weekly recap email with a summary of what we did that week as well as what we are covering this week. I was going to do this myself but I decided to use mailchimp to set up a template that I could just update week on week and send out to the same students week after week.

    I can also track who opened the email as well as who clicked on which links etc. which is pretty sneaky.

    The one thing I am not sure of is the amount and frequency of homework. I tend to set a homework at the end of a topic. I used to alternate homeworks and tests but students tended to skip out (sick day) on the tests every now and again so I've leant more on the homework.

    Good stuff

  2. Nice post.Thank you so much for sharing this post.