Let Teachers SHINE winner: Sam Stenton & Aaron Lewis – A-Level Up

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Recent research indicates that only a third of children in North East Lincolnshire have met the required standard in maths, revealing a concerning gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils that has further widened amidst the pandemic.

As a result, innovative initiatives are urgently needed to address and narrow this attainment gap in maths for disadvantaged students.

Two dedicated teachers from Grimsby have taken the lead on this issue and are striving to make a positive impact by developing a bespoke app.

To support their endeavour, SHINE has awarded them with a £25,000 grant to help them refine the app, which is specifically designed to assist A-Level maths students in preparing for their exams. The app is equipped with an advanced feedback system that provides students with comprehensive performance evaluations when they answer practice questions.

Sam Stenton and Aaron Lewis are behind the pioneering app, “A-Level Up”, which goes beyond the traditional approach of administering practice tests and providing scores.

Sam explained, “Our app will guide students towards the most relevant questions, helping them identify and fill knowledge gaps efficiently. It will be rooted in research and evidence-based teaching practices, drawing from existing schemes of work.

“While our long-term goal is to incorporate video support, we are currently focusing on creating content and providing students with a comprehensive question bank to begin using.”

Aaron added, “Our aim for the first year is to focus on software development. It is crucial for us to work hand in hand with the developer to ensure that the questions we write are aligned with the app’s design.

“In the second year, we plan to conduct pilot tests with our students and monitor their progress closely.

“Writing maths A-Level questions can be quite challenging, so we will have to rely on our expertise as maths teachers to ensure that our questions cover the entire curriculum and meet all the criteria.”

Sam reflected on the inspiration behind the idea,” Over the past couple of years, we have implemented similar approaches through mock tests and feedback programs on Excel.

“After marking the test, we would enter the data into Excel and use a red-amber-green ranking system to identify areas where students are struggling. With its skill-based nature, pinpointing areas of weakness is relatively easy in maths.

“However, giving students marks does not always feel powerful, and I don’t believe that we always utilise this information to its fullest potential.

“It’s difficult to determine whether students’ struggle is related to a specific test question or an overall lack of understanding of a particular topic. The app aims to address this issue by leveraging an algorithm to provide students with more targeted questions that fill gaps in their knowledge.”

Sam and Aaron also shared their plans for the £25,000 grant, stating, “Our priority is to allocate the majority of the funds to hire a developer who will bring our web app to life.

“While we have a wealth of knowledge in mathematics, we require technical assistance to build the app. Our next steps include creating website mock-ups and uploading questions to the platform.

“Assuming a successful outcome, we believe that we could extend this project to other subjects as well. Particularly in skill-based subjects such as computer science, physics and chemistry, this kind of app could prove to be a game-changer for students.

“By collaborating with other teachers and experts, we could expand our vision and create a comprehensive range of bespoke apps to cater to a variety of subjects.”

Sam shared his reaction to the funding, explaining, “At first, I was genuinely surprised to receive an interview invitation, but of course, very grateful. We have discussed this project for an extended period, and I think we both recognised that it was time to put it into fruition.

“We are both confident that “A-Level Up” will make a substantial difference in the lives of A-Level maths students.”

“Another great aspect of this funding is that we can now collaborate with a developer who is actually one of my former students, and one of our current students is doing a work -placement with them. It’s a nice full-circle moment.

“This opportunity also got us thinking about involving our students in the future. We hope to encourage them to create some of the app’s questions and get them involved wherever possible.

“It would be fantastic to see them apply the skills we’ve imparted to them in the future.”

SHINE Interim CEO, Dr Helen Rafferty, says: “It’s wonderful to be backing passionate teachers like Sam and Aaron to try to raise achievement for disadvantaged students in A Level maths. At SHINE, we’ve always believed in the power of great teachers to achieve change for children, and this project is a great example of this in action. We look forward to supporting Sam and Aaron with this grant and learning more about the impact of their work on students.”