Feb 202016

As I have been examining my practice through the lens of Critical Theory, I asked myself how would I teach differently now than I did even a year ago? Great question.

If-you-change-the-way__quotes-by-Wayne-Dyer-40  It is time for me to look at AP Stats differently.

The last year I taught AP Statistics, I created great connections through the entire year on each topic, how each piece fit together, and how the end results started from the beginning topics. I carefully planned it so that every element of the year connected. And then, after the AP Exam, we had 4 weeks where I challenged the learners to come up with a question, do the research, and answer the question. Topics ranged from bullying, treatment of gays in stores, to trash on the side of the road. A huge, broad range of topics.

But, we did not do anything about those topics. We didn’t share them with the community. We didn’t have time. We collected great information, but we did not ACT on it.

If I teach it again, the first week is answering the following questions.

  1. What problem in our community do you wish to solve?
  2. Is this problem something on which we can we collect data?
  3. What data do we need to collect before we can formulate a solution?
  4. Share with class.
  5. Are there any similarities in problems?
  6. Can we consolidate any of the ideas?
  7. Discuss.
  8. Revisit 1 – 7 until we can not do 6 any further.
  9. List the topics for the class.
  10. Form groups for each topic based on your own interest and your own passion.

After that first week process is over I would think we have between 2 and 7 different projects in each section. I would have to be flexible and let the class drive the number and type of projects. The only thing I can think of why to reject a project is if we would have to deal with FERPA violations, incredibly sensitive topics like rape or incest, or other legally sensitive issues.

This is the truly difficult part of the teacher’s role, is playing the gatekeeper. I would want the learners to make decisions on what they want to study, but I know that there are some topics that are not researchable by high school learners. We don’t have an IRB to do experiments on people, for example. But we want some groups to do experiments. So I would need a committee of people at the school willing to be the final Yes / No on some topics. This is actually true to the real practice of research.

After we have decided on the specific topics, then we start into the process of answering the following questions:

  1. What types of data are there in your question?
  2. How do we display those types of data?
  3. How do we collect the data in the most scientific manner?
  4. etc, etc, etc.

These are questions that come out of the AP curriculum word for word. The only difference is that I, as the teacher, will be phrasing the lessons in the context of their projects. We will be learning from the different groups why we need to know about categorical and quantitative data. We will be learning from the different groups why bar graphs work for one type, but not for another type, and we will have to dive deeply into cluster, stratified and every other type of sampling in order to come up with the BEST way of collecting data for each project.

The goal now is to dive into the AP Stats curriculum deeply. We won’t need to come up for air because we will be inhaling the vapors of our excitement for our project. (wow, that metaphor was tortured, wasn’t it?)

  • What if a learner wants to switch? I don’t think there is a problem with that. Let them choose their enthusiasm.
  • What if an entire group decides they are more passionate about different other projects? Great, then we dissolve that research group and form a new one.
  • What if they decide to start over with a new question 1/2 way through the year? If they really want to go backwards, and redo all the work they have done on experimental design, research design, question creating, data analysis, and all of the rest of the topics then why stop them from relearning the material in a different context? Granted it is a ton of work, but they are learning, relearning, and taking charge of their education on a topic they are interested in. Why block them artificially?

Second semester is about finishing probability so the learners can moving into confidence intervals and tests. This is where the decision making comes into play, and as the learners become confident in this area, they will be making decisions on their topics.

Those last four weeks of school when I used to do projects would now be turned into “Action.”

  • Meet with the administration or counselors of the school about the data collected and share the statistics and conclusions. Work with the them to come up with a plan to solve problems, or at least come up with a plan to work on solving problems.
  • Write letters to the newspapers and media.
  • Write letters and meet with politicians.

The end goal is to allow the learners to drive the content of the class. They would be much more engaged in their own questions than any question I could come up with.

They would still be learning 100% of the AP Statistics curriculum, but now they would be more engaged and see the purpose for each “module” of the curriculum in a more solid, substantial way. This should help with AP scores (but I have no data to support this).

And in the end, hopefully it would make the community (however the learners bounded this) better.

What it would take from me is a huge willingness to give the learners power over their own education. They would have the ability to make decisions, and be allowed to follow through on those decisions. Some of those decisions will not turn out with positive (statistically speaking) results. They will get negative results. That is real life.

It would take time to plan, to organize content around their projects, and to think deeper about the connections. It would take time to connect with admin and parents to explain why I am doing this. It would require the admin of the school to be willing to allow learners to have the power.

It would absolutely weaken the oppression of the learners done by curriculum designers.

I want to do this. I am not in a classroom any more to do it.

Is anyone willing to partner? I will help. I will support. I will do everything in my power to make your life easier while doing this.

I think it is worth doing.

  3 Responses to “Re-Writing AP Stats through Critical Theory”

  1. I love this idea! I am thinking seriously about using your model and have posted a question about it to the AP listserv.
    This goes hand-in-hand with our science fair and senior thesis projects.

  2. Thank you Kate! If I can help in any way, please let me know.

  3. I love this idea and am thinking about implementing it into my Honors Probability and Statistics class. I would love some insight on what I have put together. What would be the best way to reach out to you? Thank you for the idea and the offer of support.

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