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I recently visited Hillside High School in Bootle, Merseyside to promote A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics to Year 11 students. This was my second visit, and a Year 10 student later said to his teacher, “Hey, that’s the second time he’s been in to work with the top sets. Why don’t we get any visits?

Naturally, the teacher contacted me and asked what I could do for students whose target grade at GCSE is 4 (or lower). “Well, we could do some Core Maths activities…” I suggested. 

Core Maths is designed for students who have obtained a Grade 4 or higher at GCSE and tends to attract a broad range of students. I was interested to see how younger students with lower attainment grades would fare with real-world maths involving random processes and estimation.

We started with a simple activity to get the classes warmed up: “The Answer’s 42 – What’s the Question?”. This has worked well in the past, with students attempting to outdo each other in creativity and complexity; past attainment grades appeared to be no barrier to this group producing similarly spectacular solutions. We then worked through a simple ‘Heads-Tails’ game, a simulation game to see how much they might be earning when they are 40, and a version of the National Lottery. At all stages, students enjoyed the freedom given to them to use their own ideas, though they were initially very dubious about estimating – maths to them was previously something precise and unbending, and they were taken aback by how much estimation can be tolerated in obtaining useful real-world answers.

The students, of which there were 95 in total during the day, gave very positive feedback and may now be inclined to see maths as something other than an examination hurdle to be overcome. I left feeling gratified that lower-attaining students had taken part in AMSP activities in a productive and positive way. I will also remember forever the one individual who received a prize for the best ‘42’, went on to win the ‘Heads-Tails’ competition AND picked the three correct numbers in the mini National Lottery. What are the chances…

By Martin Bamber

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