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The First Day of Statistics Class

Updated: Sep 12

The summer is winding down, and the first day of school is fast approaching. This likely means that you have a few days of full staff PD lined up, which will give you plenty of time to start daydreaming about teaching statistics. So, what will you do on day 1?

We’ve got two activities that we absolutely love. If you are starting the year with one variable analysis, you’ll want to do Activity #1. If you are starting the year with collecting data, check out Activity #2.

(1) Can Joy Smell Parkinson’s?

In this activity, students investigate whether there is convincing evidence that Joy Milnes can smell Parkinson’s disease by testing their own ability to correctly “smell” Parkinson’s on t-shirts. This activity is where you plant some seeds for later understanding of experimental design, probability, and significance testing. This activity will leave you with an artifact that can be constantly referred to throughout the course, so make sure to hang on to your class dotplot. (Thank you to Doug Tyson for bringing this lesson to the AP Stats community!).

(2) Does Beyoncé Write Her Own Lyrics?

In this activity, students will try to decide if Beyoncé wrote the lyrics for Crazy in Loveby trying to estimate the average length of the words used in the lyrics. Inevitably, the students will do a terrible job estimating the average word length, and the idea of a simple random sample will emerge. This activity is previewing what will later grow into an understanding of sampling methods, variability, sampling distributions, and significance tests.

But I need to go over the syllabus and do an icebreaker in Day 1…

No, you don’t. Students will get plenty of this in all their other classes. We want them to know that this class is going to be different their previous math classes. We want them to know that in this class they will be learning with an Experience First, Formalize Later (EFFL) approach. We also want to give them a taste of some of the big ideas we will be working towards this year (inference!). Most importantly, we want to get students excited about learning statistics!

Pro Tips for Day 1

Be efficient.

Have your posters ready to go at the beginning of class. Have sticker dots ready on the desks. Have the video (or playlist) queued up and ready to go. During the activity, have students write down their values on the sticker dots and send one student per group up to put them on the poster. All of this intentional planning will save you valuable minutes that you will need to formalize the learning at the end of the lesson. You want to make sure you have enough time to give the punchline of the lesson. It just won’t be the same if you do it the next day.

Don’t lose the rigor.

The wrap-up at the end of each lesson is critical. This is your opportunity to formalize the language, definitions and thinking from the experience. While we definitely want students to know that we are going to have some serious fun this year, we also want them to know there is some serious learning that is going to take place if we are going to crush the AP Exam in May.

If you liked this lesson, you should consider committing to all 150 days of AP Stats. Now let’s have a great start to the school year!

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