I’m finally taking the plunge to do this blogging thing. I’ve wanted to for a while because I love what I’ve learned off of so many other teacher’s blogs. My biggest concern has always been “Do I have enough time?” I mean I barely get my day to day things done at school before I need to leave to pick up my daughter, but I know that I need to try and hopefully even if no one else reads this I will feel better by doing it – sort of like journaling -another thing I’ve been meaning to do again 🙂
So e-world, who am I? Well I guess you can read more about me on the About page but in essence my name is Jenni Clarkin and I am a high school math teacher in Howard County, Maryland. There aren’t a ton of people who can say that they LOVE what they do so I consider myself to be blessed that I have a job where, even on the bad and trying days, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now and my absolute favorite class to teach is AP Statistics which I’ve been teaching is some form or another for over 15 years.
If you are an AP Stats teacher then you know there is just something special about this course which I affectionately call the “redheaded step-child of the math department.” You know there is more “other stuff” than math in it at times and the grading….ah yes… one of the many reasons why I don’t understand how English teachers do it with all the writing we need to read. I jokingly tell the kids the only reason they don’t have English teachers teaching this course is because they were scared of the math. (Maybe there is some truth in that.) How I ended up with this gem of a course though was probably similar to yours. You see as a 3rd year math teacher getting anything about Geometry wasn’t really going to happen at the school I first started teaching it. There was a chain of seniority and I was way on the bottom. But that year they wanted to run Probability and Statistics and none of the other “senior” teachers wanted it. What!! Of course I jumped at the chance to teach it. With only 2 Stats courses required from my Math degree in Education I figured I’d have to teach myself some stuff so I agreed to work on the curriculum that summer for the course to get a leg up. What I didn’t expect was how MANY hours I would put into prepping a lesson for each day. There would be nights that I’d spend several hours learning everything and then I’d call my husband, who was my fiance at the time, and say “can you listen to me explain this and see if makes sense?” Keep in mind this wasn’t even AP Stats – just Prob and Stats. But I was already creating some cool activities to go with the lessons and I saw this different course as something interesting, something that appealed to all students, and of course had TONS of real world applications. That year our class took a field trip to the local Black & Decker plant where they showed us how they used the statistics we talked about and explained hands on what Six Sigma was. What an awesome experience for the kids and myself. I was really loving this course but I was also getting married that summer and moving to the other side of the bay to be with my husband which meant I was going to be starting all over at a new school and handing over all my hard work to another teacher to continue where I left off. Fortunately she was a friend of mine and I knew she would take good care of the course (which in fact she still is this day.)
Newly married, new county, new school, and new schedule but an awesome department chair who gave me the opportunity to start the AP Statistics program at that new school my second year there. Thank God that I had a year of teaching Prob & Stat because I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise. I clearly remember attending my first College Board Workshop for AP teachers that first year early in the fall and breathing a HUGE sigh of relief when I found out I WAS doing the right stuff and was actually on pace for where I should have been. *** So let me take a second here to pause for all of you that don’t teach AP Stats and explain that, at least where I teach, there usually isn’t more than 1 person in any school in our county that teaches this course. So while others are co-planning with other people who either teach the same course (or at least have at some point) I was the only one who knew what the heck I was dealing with. If you wanted to talk Stats you needed to find another teacher in the county who’d be willing to talk with you. Perhaps you’ve felt that isolation before. No one to share the exciting stuff that you’re doing who gets it, and/or having someone to ask for help in your building who actually could. Also remember “back in the day” while we had e-mail – if you wanted to talk to someone or get ideas you had to call someone and talk to them. *** I will be forever grateful for Frank Aiello for spending time with me that year to help, answer questions, and letting me sit in on his kids AP Review Sessions. Also I would have died several times if it weren’t for the gurus and other folks on the AP Stats listserve (remember that?) I remember going to a workshop where Chris Olsen was leading and was in awe. Sort of like going to my first AP Stats Reading where I sat and ate breakfast with the Stats Monkey himself, Jason Molesky, or met the authors of the textbook I used. Math nerd star struck I guess 🙂
So why would anyone, given all the limitations and isolation to teach a course, love something so much? I guess until you teach AP Stats yourself you’ll never understand fully but here is a glimmer into my world. Imagine you are teaching Algebra 2 let’s say and you get to a concept like complex numbers. You teach what they are – rocking their world by telling them all of sudden you can take the square root of a negative number. “What! My math teachers lied to me!!” And you teach them how you can use them and they get that and all but then they ask you that age old question- you know it already don’t you? “When am I ever going to use this in real-life?” And you want to tell them, but let’s face it you’ve only worked in a school teaching math since you graduated college, unless you count that summer you worked in Ocean City on the boardwalk, but they most definitely did not use them there and you really have no idea. Now I never make up answers for kids to try to make myself sound smart and you probably don’t either so you stand there dumbfounded because you knew the question was coming but you still don’t have a good answer. Enter my AP Stats class and that question NEVER comes up. Why? Um because we always have a real time answer to that question. This actually does make this hard to teach this class too because to keep it fresh for you and your students you’re constantly changing what you do. But one of the things I love about this class is I’m always learning something new about what I teach. I’m still trying to wrap my mind about this whole boot-strapping idea but I’m excited to know more and learn from people that use it . The hands on activities we do in class are endless as I’m constantly wanting to incorporate more as I discover a better way to explain something. I just love it!! And of course when you love something you want everyone else to know why it’s so great right? (I think that is the point of this post.)
Now that I’m “seasoned” in this course I still don’t know everything, nor do I ever believe that I ever will. I still, after 15 years, can’t decide whether I want to start the next unit with Confidence Intervals or Hypothesis Testing as I most recently have been doing. I want to take the plunge but I’m concerned about the time I have available (a common theme apparently) and I want to hear from others who have done it already. That brings me to the most recent thing I’ve done to help with the AP Stats community in my area.
I remember those first days/years and how I wish I had someone to talk to and that’s why I worked with my county math peeps to find out who was teaching AP Stats at each school and I reached out to them to provide a sort of support group and sounding board. I set up times for us to collaborate and meet at county math gatherings, facilitated an e-mail group so others could communicate easily and created a dropbox folder for us to share resources that we found helpful or needed. This way no one would feel alone. I wasn’t sure at first if it would be received well or not, but by the end of the year first year teachers of Stats were saying they couldn’t have survived without it and veteran teachers were happy to be able to exchange ideas with others who “got it” and understood what they were going through at a different level. I’m so happy I stepped out to do that. My main thought was that it would have been nice if I had something like that and not that I’ve been teaching it so long that I’m an expert and I can tell you what to do. I think that is why it has been so successful. There are a lot of things that I’m doing in my class now that I would never suggest a newbie try until they’ve got a few years under their belt. But when they are ready they know they can reach out. In general I would say that is what the entire global community of AP Stats teachers are like. I LOVE going to the readings because it’s the best professional development you could ever get for this course and everyone wants to help everyone out and learn what they are doing that is working. I’m proud to be part of the AP Stats community because I know it’s not like this in other disciplines of math. And that, dear readers, makes me smile 🙂