Changes are coming

So if you've missed it (which is pretty likely unless you happen to be a Victorian maths teacher), a consultation period for the new VCE Mathematics study design has just begun. You can find info on any of the maths study pages on the VCAA website. They have a draft of the new study design to start in 2016. That means the current 2006 study design will last ten years once we're done with it. So it's probably due for a refresh.

It's probably a good idea to go read the new study design in detail so you can give an informed opinion in the online questionaire they have. Instead, I'm just going to glance at the changes and just blog about my gut reactions.

The only VCE maths I've taught is Methods Unit 3 & 4 (and for the last few years at that), so most of my comments will focus on it.

Also, if it isn't clear, the new study design is only a draft. So don't go crazy about it yet.

No more "(CAS)"

"Mathematical Methods (CAS)" is dead! Long live "Mathematical Methods"!

By that, I mean they've dropped "(CAS)" off the name of the subject. Which totally makes sense, really, since it's been our only "Methods" for a while now.

For context, a while ago (2004ish? When I was at school still, anyway) CAS calculators were introduced into the curriculum by adding "Mathematical Methods (CAS)" in parallel with "Mathematical Methods". But then the original was killed off a few years ago, leaving us with only one Methods subject with "(CAS)" tacked on the end.

Statistics!

OK, I might have gone on record recently stating I've never really liked stats, but I've always thought it an odd omission not having statistics in Methods. But it's there now: Area of Study 4 is now "Probability and Statistics". Specifically, Statistical Inference is added, following on from Discrete and Continuous Probability Distributions.

Not only that, but Specialist Mathematics now has a "Probability and Statistics" area of study too. It's been strange that up to this point, the only way to study statistics in Year 12 was in Further Mathematics, which not many of our high achieving maths students would do (though I hear there's also a lot of stats in Psychology).

Of course, to make room for all the lovely new stats, something else has to give ...

Where's my matrices at?

So the list of topics removed from Methods includes:

  • Markov chains/sequences and transition matrices
  • matrix representation and solution of simultaneous linear equations

And while not in the official list of changes, I can't find any mention of transformation matrices in the draft either. While this makes me somewhat sad (I loved linear algebra at uni) it's somewhat understandable. The old treatment of matrices was a little unusual: we had to explain what they were for these three tiny parts of the course, but there was never really room for proper coverage of them.

Though I have one concern over their removal, from my personal experience. I went to school in Victoria and got my VCE, but I went to univeristy in South Australia. My very first lecture freaked me out - it was on matrices, and I had absolutely no idea what they were! I borrowed a SACE maths textbook from the library and got myself caught up pretty quickly, but by removing matrices from VCE again, are we making this situation possible once more?

As far as I can tell, the only mention of matrices in the draft is in General Maths. My small school isn't big enough to run multiple General classes, so we usually only use it as a feeder into Further, so we'd be unlikely to cover matrices at all.

Honestly, the other removals from Methods seem sensible to me: topics that are interesting, but probably not essential when you're trying to trim down a subject.

No more tests!

There are only three SACs set down for Methods now:

  • One "Application Task" over 1-2 weeks in Unit 3.
  • Two "Modelling or problem solving tasks" (the old Analysis tasks, probably) in Unit 4.

Missing are the two tests from Unit 3. Of course, there's nothing stopping a teacher from setting their own non-graded tests, revision quizzes, or whatever you want to call them. My students are going to hate me...

New subject!

Specialist Mathematics Unit 1 & 2 is now a thing. I don't really have anything to say about that yet.

There's also got to be other changes I haven't even noticed yet. I've already written a lot more than I intended, so I'll leave it here for now. Again, these are just my first reactions, I might completely reverse my opinions in the coming days. If you're a VCE maths teacher (or English for that matter, I think they're being reviewed too) don't forget to look through the draft yourself.

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Shaun used to be maths, IT and ocassional physics teacher at a small P-12 school (primary and secondary) in rural Victoria, Australia. He is currently in the process of starting his career again in the United States.

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