Saturday, November 25, 2017

An Autopsy of a Sophomore Statistics Unit

This year, we flipped our sophomore geometry class around. Typically, we end the year with a statistics and probability unit, but this year we started with it. In fact, we extended the units from the end of August all the way until Thanksgiving break. Our beefed up units included:
  • Creating data displays
  • Probability using Venn Diagrams and two way tables to find unions, intersections, and conditionals
  • One variable measures of center, spread, and shape
  • Measures of location (z-scores and percentiles)
  • Experimental design and survey methods

There were many reasons we made the change, but here are a few:

  • Connecticut is using the SAT as its high school accountability test, and it has a fair amount of statistics on it (and very little geometry)
  • Statistics has been the last unit in our districts 6-8 curriculum, and we all know what happens to units at the end of the year...
  • We used to have 1-var stats and linear regression in algebra I, probability in geometry, and polynomial regression in algebra II, but teaching everything separately felt very disjointed.
  • Our department generally agreed with Arthur Benjamin's ideas about teaching statistics.

Now for the autopsy (complete with emojis)...

😒 It was a struggle for our geometry teachers to change gears at the start of the year. We found that many of the routines that work in geometry don't work as well with statistics. I have typically used a Which One Doesn't Belong to start every geometry class, but I found it very difficult to find or make ones that worked in statistics. Over time, I found that other routines such as Would you RatherClothesline Math, and some 3-act tasks were better suited to starting a lesson.

😩 The shift in content was also tough for teachers. At our school, statistics is typically offered as a senior year course, and our 9th and 10th grade teachers hadn't seen some of the content in years. Remembering how to calculate z-score took a minute; remembering how to teach the meaning behind it took longer. Shout out to the teachers who provided resources that made it so much easier:

😁 On the other hand, students felt much more at ease as compared to previous years. We have previously started the year with coordinate geometry, which relies heavily on skills from algebra I.  I've started the year with Jo Boaler's Week of Inspirational Math for the past three years, but students that didn't fare well last year see the writing on the wall and begin to withdraw early. Starting with statistics circumvented that issue and promoted more of a growth mindset.

😃 Starting with statistics also felt natural, because at the start of the school year you're trying to learn more about your students. Those student surveys and "getting to know you" activities suddenly had more of a purpose. It felt natural to ask students what town they lived in (we're a magnet), then ask how long they rode the bus to get to school, then make a histogram of those times, and finally look at the center and spread of the data.

😏 Staying with statistics for an extended period of time let us talk about social justice issues. For example, after looking at the bus ride data we were able to have an informed discussion about the impact of magnet school busing on our students. Unfortunately, these conversations tended to be limited to one lesson. I would love to have students explore social justice issues further, but I'm not quite sure how I would go about it, if my sophomores are ready for that, or if there is enough time.

😓 Speaking of not enough time, we're now in a situation where our normal geometry curriculum is compressed by six weeks. Since the SATs don't focus on geometry, most higher-ups doesn't see an issue. However, I know that our team of geometry teachers will need to start picking and choosing what topics in geometry we can spend less time on. Wish me luck!

The conclusion: the stats unit will live to see another year!