Virge Cornelius has taught AP Calculus for over 25 years, but AP Stats for less than 1. She is originally from New York City but has lived in Oxford Mississippi for over two decades which is why her accent is negligible. This is her 23rd year teaching at Lafayette, her 33rd year teaching high school, and her 56th year learning. She has won numerous awards, but her biggest reward is seeing her former students out in the community, making a difference.
This January marked the beginning of my AP Statistics teaching journey. I have been planning for this moment for 9 months, ever since we knew our high school would be switching to a 4×4 block schedule and our middle school would not, which meant that I would not be teaching middle school Algebra I and could now teach a new course. I have wanted to offer more upper-level math classes to our students, but we simply didn’t have enough teachers.
How did I get ready for this moment?
In April 2022, I ordered an AP Statistics prep book and took the multiple choice portion of a practice exam. I scored a 64%. Not bad! Feeling buoyed by this, I started doing exercise sets and watching videos on Khan Academy (in that order — haha… If I got stuff wrong I would watch a video, not the other way around). I strove to get to 60% mastery, and I got to 56%. Side note: AP Statistics on Khan Academy does not align as closely to the course and exam description as AP Calculus does. But I love Sal Khan anyway!
In May once the AP Calculus free response questions (FRQ) were released, I printed not only those, but also the 2021 Stats FRQs. And the 2019… and the 2018… you get the idea. I worked the questions and corrected my responses by reading solutions and watching videos. I was starting to figure out what I knew, what I knew but wasn’t answering fully, and what I did not know. During the AP Calculus reading in June, Stats Medic guru Luke Wilcox and I were both grading in Kansas City and we ate lunch, talked AP Stats, swapped phone numbers, and vowed to stay in touch. In July, I got into AP Classroom and started watching and taking notes on the AP Daily videos. I also took a virtual AP summer institute through Taft School with Al Reiff (highly recommend!).
Then school started on August 1st and I didn’t do anything. Except all of the things you have to do when you are teaching a full load, chasing your own kid(s) around, and making good on the side project promises you made. I didn’t have the bandwidth to prep much more for stats. The textbooks our assistant principal ordered for us sat so shiny and unused on the shelf. I also started to get nervous. I have taught AP Calculus and Algebra I for so long that the actual doing of the problems wasn’t part of my prep anymore. I still had to plan, prep, teach, write assessments, and grade said assessments, but I didn’t have to do all the problems. I also know how to answer (almost) all of the questions. I was intentionally putting myself in the danger zone and as January crept into view, I knew I had to buckle down and start the real work of a math teacher.
Math teachers have to do all the problems!!!
This is a significant part of our prep time, and if we don’t do all the problems, we will look and feel completely unprepared (or worse) in front of the students. We won’t know what questions students will have so we won’t have thought through how to answer them. We will also have no idea how long something will take students to complete if we don’t work it ourselves first. So every night after dinner, I am feeling like a brand new teacher because I am sitting and doing all the problems, a few days ahead of the students.
Back in 1991 when I first started teaching AP Calculus, I told the students that I was doing all the problems. I felt like I had to say that out loud so they would hold me to it. It also prevented them from complaining about me giving them too much homework. I kept a homework notebook and if they came for extra help, they could look at my work first to see if they could clear up their own confusion. Of course now we have so many online ways to check work, but I decided to do the same thing with my inaugural group of AP Stats students. I am keeping a homework notebook. They can come and look at it before first block, or, of course, they can just ask me a question if I am not helping someone else. I’ll be able to answer their question(s) because (have I mentioned?), I will have done ALL THE PROBLEMS.
Thinking back to the 90s I remembered I did something my high school math teachers did in the 80s. They kept a list of assignments for that unit pinned to a bulletin board in the classroom that grew as the course progressed. Fast forward to THE INTERNET, CHROMEBOOKS and LIVE DOCS, I decided to create a growing google document that achieves the same, if not better effect. It is fun to be working from a google doc because I can see who is popping in and out. But even better (from my students’ perspective): I often remove problems from the assignment list because as I do all the problems, I decide that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. We are only in the first unit and stats already takes so much time to write and explain. Maybe it will be better when we start calculating p-values.
How is it going?
We are only two blocks into AP Stats. The first day went great! Walking on air! Then the second day, two new students were added and I had no idea to expect them so I ran and made some extra copies right after the pledge. I was also somewhat frazzled since as I walked into school that morning I realized I left my homework, textbook and notes pages at home. Now I felt like a student! Sorry students, I left my homework on the dining room table! At the end of the day, a package from the publisher arrived! I brought it home! A Teacher’s Edition and a flash drive with quizzes and tests! YAY! But my laptop needs the external hub to do anything but charge it (USB-C) or insert headphones. The external hub was in my classroom. Boo! I was definitely experiencing the new teacher roller coaster ride. So I sat down after dinner, and did more problems.
This morning I was interviewed by a senior English education major as part of her honors college thesis. She kept asking me how I manage the work/life balance. I didn’t really understand the question. You will never survive as a teacher, and you definitely won’t thrive, if you view it as a job. Teaching is a craft, an art. You have to keep working at it and challenge yourself to change it up and branch out in a new direction. Doing all the problems will take time, but each year you have to do fewer problems, until, that is, you change preps or books or schools or… retire.
I promise to give another AP Stats update at some point and I am saying it out loud so you can hold me to it.
Virge shares her math education ideas regularly on her blog at www.virgecornelius.com.