I am in my 28th year of teaching high school math (with some overlapping years of middle school math thrown in as well) and some would think that I should have it all down pretty well but his point. Luckily for me, this is only partially true. Also, luckily for me I have a great community of support online (I’m looking at YOU #mtbos.)
In the spring of 2010 when I was interviewing with my current school I was told that one of my tasks was to teach AP Statistics. I had never taught stats before at any level. There was a time in my life – in 2001 as a matter of fact – when I stopped talking with a school about a position because they needed a stats teacher. This time I was more confident and more interested in the school so I took on this challenge. I enrolled in a week-long summer institute taught at Fordham in Manhattan by Chris Olsen. I’ve really enjoyed teaching this class but I still feel far less confident in Stats than I do in any of my other classes. I gave our first quiz of the year last Friday over Section 4.1 of the Starnes, Yates, and Moore 4th Edition of The Practice of Statistics. A number of my students were engaged in a pretty heated debate outside the classroom. I was pretty sure that I knew what the answer was but students in favor of two different answers both made compelling arguments. In the past, I might have dug in my heels and stood by my initial guess. Or I might have thrown he question out. Or I might have given everybody credit regardless of their answer. In any of these situations I would have felt pretty unsatisfied and I would not have been any smarter. I was tempted to go to the AP Community page where I have found some pretty helpful folks. However, the feedback cycle there is not particularly rapid and I have to remind myself to go back and check in. Twitter to the rescue! I sent out a plea to Hedge (@approx_normal) and to Bob Lochel (@bobloch) sharing a link to my quiz and begging for help. Hedge replied in a series of about 8 tweets and Bob replied as well. Hedge suggested that I also reach out to Shelli (@druinok) Temple for help as well. In the end, I felt smarter, I realized that my students who had a misconception (a) had a very reasonable misconception and (b) had that because of something I had said earlier. I now know to be more careful with my use of vocab, I know that there are folks who have my back. I was able to show my students the twitter transcripts of these conversations so that they can (a) see that learning keeps on going on even when you are a supposed expert like they see their teachers to be and (b) they (hopefully) see that I am trying my best to be clear and fair in how I evaluate their work. The fact that Bob suggested that each of the two hotly debated answers should be accepted certainly helped.
Great post – and I love that the students were ‘hotly debating’ – always a sign that something good is happening. And your being willing to modify your own approach based on their response sets a great example for the kids. Good luck with this course! I’ve always wanted to teach it.