BRAIN DUMP DAY: Building a regular stats course from scratch

This isn’t one of those blog posts where I disperse my profound insight on you so that you can share it with the world… Wait, I don’t do that anyway, do I?

This is more of a spur of the moment “brain dump” to let you see what’s going on in my brain so you can help me unscramble it (in a non-“Hannibal Lecter” sort of way… sorry for the visual). I do this a lot, but I figured it would better from now on to warn you in the title so you don’t waste your time on a post you think will be, um, “enlightening” (yeah, I can’t say it with a straight face either). I don’t edit, I don’t ponder how to say what I’m thinking, I just TYPE. Love me for it or GO AWAY.

Here’s the deal:

I’ve taught AP Stats for about 5 years and, while still a newbie, I’m now at the point where I’m refining my course and adding to it than the “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING??” mindset. PROBLEM: once my AP Stats roster began to grow, people began signing up for the course with NO intention of taking the AP exam. In fact, they really thought (for some reason) the class would be easy and were dumbfounded to find out that (a) it’s HARD and (b) it’s not really like any math you’ve ever taken. So they started to complain and yadda yadda yadda. I think I’ve told you this story before… But I’m too lazy to go back and find the post.

So the counselors created a “regular statistics” course that would receive honors weight. That way the kids that wanted to take stats could get their “learn on” without the pressure of the AP exam and everything would be gravy, right? WRONG. My “regular stats” class became the dumping ground for students who fit into one of the following categories: those who (a) didn’t qualify for dual enrollment college algebra (b) didn’t qualify for the grade requirement for precalculus/trigonometry or had previously failed Algebra 2 once (or twice) (c) didn’t want to take AP Stats/Calculus because they didn’t want to have to work hard (d) were not likely to pass unless the teacher would bend over backwards and spend extra hours outside of class tutoring or (e) were about to graduate and, for some ungodly reason, wanted to have me for ONE more class because I’m THAT WEIRD.

Ok – dumping ground is harsh and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea if you’re relatively new to my blog. When I say “dumping ground”, I mean that counselors threw kids in the course without any consideration of the difficulty of the class and ASSUMED it would be “easy” because it wasn’t AP. None of my kids are “trash”. Even if they’re BAD kids (interpret that as you wish), I still like my kids a lot. But if a senior has failed Algebra 2 TWICE his jr year, finally passed it by ONE point (somehow) and can barely solve 2x + 5 = 8x – 4, he/she is likely to STRUGGLE in statistics (or at least the way I had it planned that year… more to come on that). There were other course options for these kids, but the counselors figured (correctly, I’m sorry to say – I must fix this somehow, but that’s a blog for another day) that I would bust my ass to make sure these kids passed so they plopped them in stats.

In a nutshell, I taught regular stats the same objectives that I taught AP, I just didn’t make the writing/proofs as structured/rigid as AP.

This bombed like a “quiet” fart from a defensive linebacker in study hall.

It didn’t work. **face palm** There, I said it and yes, I’m embarrassed. I honestly ASSUMED that I would get honors-level kids since the course was designated with honors weight. Well, there goes that “ass-u-me” joke that I ABSOLUTELY proved with my regular stats course (I actually now consider myself the poster child of that joke). I had kids with high math abilities (making 34 on math part of ACT and finishing precalc/trig with A’s) and low math abilities (you already know about those). My grades were ALWAYS bimodal in distribution (insert crude joke here) with the high ability kids easily making A’s and being bored, while the lower ability kids were bombing and not making connections. I could blame it on the reason you may have read about in the #secretblog OR I could just own it and say I DIDN’T PLAN THE COURSE LIKE I SHOULD HAVE to account for the possibility of such extreme differences in mathematical backgrounds.

But at least NOW I know what to expect for next year. I don’t want to be “that” teacher that sets requirements for this course. I think every kid should have the opportunity to take statistics because it’s something they’re going to come across as adults (and it’s FREAKIN’ COOL!!). I get to design this course from scratch and do whatever I want with it. That’s exciting and scary as hell at the same time. I want it to be something that the lower-level kids can do and find interesting. Yet at the same time, those upper-level kids will find it challenging so it’s not “underwater basket weaving” and they’ll actually have to THINK.

How would you design a class like that to be engaging and challenging for such extreme abilities? Where would you start? What would you include? What would you leave out (or make optional for kids who need to be challenged)? Would you start with something that EVERYBODY could do so that your lower-level kids could start out feeling successful? Or would you start with something a little different so that the upper-level kids would be knocked on their ass just a little and the lower-level kids would see those kids struggle (which might backfire as, “if THEY can’t do it, how do you expect ME to do it”)?

I don’t really know.

Honestly, I don’t really know where to even START. Stats isn’t exactly like algebra where you need to layer and build on prior knowledge. There are different areas that don’t seem to be related until you get to inference and tie it all together. So really I could start almost anywhere: univariate data, sampling, experimental design, simulations, probability… You name it.

The election will be the same semester that I’m teaching this course. And while that’s interesting to ME, is it something that the kids really care about? Or would they rather learn how statistics is important in sports, crazy legal cases, taste tests, bias in the media/advertisements, etc.

I DON’T KNOW. I HAVE TOO MANY OPTIONS. This is NOT good for my attention-deficit disorder brain… But I gotta figure it out ASAP. I have to present my course to my administrators (with pre/post tests, common assessments, pacing guide, academic vocabulary, etc.) by August 1st.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on in my brain today – hope you could follow because I’m NOT going back to edit this post. It’s brain dump day, like it or not.

If you have any suggestions/advice, I am always open to that so comment away.



2 thoughts on “BRAIN DUMP DAY: Building a regular stats course from scratch

  1. I am right there with you sister except we don't have AP stats.


  2. Wow! I have just taught this very course for the last two years! It has definitely chewed me up and spat me out, but I think I have a decent overall plan, subject to lots and lots of revision. What, should I write it up?

    The basic framework:

    Everything is empirical. We use Fathom and use the George-Cobb, all inference is from randomization policy. But no inference happens til after Christmas.

    The Fall is entirely descriptive statistics, with an eye towards the inference to come.

    The Winter opens with probability, okay, only mostly empirical. I do teach about tree diagrams and area models, but we're really interested in then simulating the situations, comparing theory to reality, and marveling at how different they look.

    Then come various forms of inference, done through randomization, starting with binomial stuff (but not so named; search my blog for “Aunt Belinda”) and gradually winding our way through scrambling all the way to the bootstrap.

    There are projects and mini-projects along the way, and SBG. Many topics are “open at the top,” giving something interesting for the kids doubling in calculus to get out of second gear without totally swamping the ones who didn't do so well in Algebra 2.

    Let me know if you want to know more.


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