Students should no longer need to prove Pythagoras in junior cycle maths

Junior Certificate students will no longer be asked in exams to prove Pythagoras’ or anybody else’s theorems under a revised junior cycle maths course.

However, although many teachers consulted on the curriculum for students’ first three years of second-level found time constraints to be a problem delivering the course, this is one of very few elements being dropped.

Instead, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is merging some connected strands like algebra and functions to help schools make best use of the 240-plus hours of maths classes they must provide during junior cycle.

In a draft curriculum to which responses are being sought by the end of November, the NCCA said that no longer examining formal proofs of theorems will allow classroom time activities that support the development of the concept of geometrical proof.

“Students will still be asked to apply them and use them, but they won’t be asked to prove any theorems,” said NCCA director of curriculum and assessment Barry Slattery.

The changes have been influenced by an evaluation of the impact of the 2010 introduction of Project Maths, a second-level course that overhauled approaches to the subject but which has also drawn criticisms. NCCA has commissioned a separate study of how students’ performance at third-level has been influenced by the changes.

In the review published yesterday, Gerry Shiel and Cathy Kelleher of the Educational Research Centre (ERC) concluded that Project Maths has had a small positive impact on student performance at junior cycle, based on scores in international tests.

Maths is the next subject in which students will be taught a new curriculum under the phased introduction of reforms of teaching and assessment at junior cycle, beginning from next September. The associated professional development for teachers will begin early next year, and the first Junior Certificate exam in the new course will take place in 2021.

Like all subjects in which changes are introduced, students beginning second-level next year will undertake two classroom-based assessments administered by their teachers, elements of which will be worth 10% of their final Junior Certificate results.

The consultation on the draft curriculum is designed to influence the delivery of training by the Junior Cycle for Teachers section of the Department of Education.

The online survey explains little material was removed from the current syllabus, as it was felt that the mathematical ideas it covers were important for young people to experience at this stage of their education.

However, teachers and others responding to the draft are being offered the opportunity to suggest maths ideas they think could be removed and the reasons why this could be done.

The issues identified by teachers who took part in focus groups as part of the ERC’s study for the NCCA included difficulties delivering the entire Project Maths course in time, or to cover it in such a way as to allow proper student understanding and time to revise ahead of exams.

“If I didn’t have to cover everything I would do things much slower and I think I would teach them better … But I’m just under so much pressure,” one teacher said.

A recent study by Niamh O’Meara of University of Limerick and Mark Prendergast of Trinity College Dublin found that nearly 90% of teachers of junior cycle maths report no increase in time allocated to the subject since Project Maths was introduced.

The timetabled allocation to maths for junior cycle students varied widely from school to school, ranging from 228 hours to 439 hours, they found.


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