August 2013 Posts

Perfect Practice


I just spent about 80 minutes grading the first AP Stat homework assignment for one class period.1 It may sound painful,2 but it was honestly a bit refreshing. As much as the students need to get back into the swing of doing homework, I feel like I need to get back into the swing of reading / critiquing / grading it as well.

. . .

I like to refer to each year of teaching as a “season” — like a season of a television show.3 My second full year in 2008-09 was “season 2”4 (my first half-year in the spring of 2007 was “season 0”).

I didn’t always grade homework for correctness.

Up through the first six weeks of Season 2, I gave mostly “completion” grades for homework — I reserved meaningful written feedback for quizzes, which would hopefully be helpful before getting to the major exams. When it became clear to me that holding students to the expectation that homework needed to be practiced correctly, I started grading about a half-dozen “randomly”5 selected problems on each assignment. I remember when I first started grading homework, it felt impossibly time-consuming and torturous, and that I didn’t think I was going to make it through the end of the week — and at the time, I was only really grading homework for 2 periods of Pre-AP Algebra II.

Students hate it, of course, because they like their homework grades to be easy 100’s. But I found that it was worthwhile,6 as it seemed that students7 started taking their “practice” a little more seriously. More importantly, though, it makes you more aware of the little things to re-emphasize and point out in class the next day, before getting to the next “game day” — a.k.a., the big unit assessments. This is especially important in a class like AP Stat, where nailing the proper specifics in your written responses is of utmost importance.

Which, by the way, if you’re a math teacher8 and are considering teaching AP Statistics, you should know… it encompasses a LOT of writing on the part of the students. I enjoy the reading and writing that is involved, but grading papers is appropriately time-consuming. For reference: I used to be able to knock out a class period of Precalculus tests in about 20 to 30 minutes. A single class set of AP Stat exams, on the other hand, generally takes me about 80 – 100 minutes9 — and that’s if I am working quickly.10 And with it being a class with that big exam at the end, there are no shortcuts — you have to force the students to practice writing, and you have to grade their responses on a regular basis.

. . .

A friend of mine once asked me if I “liked” grading papers. Knowing that he had two kids, I looked back at him and replied,

Do you ‘like’ changing diapers?

We both laughed, but… it fits. =)

  1. it took about the length of one college football game to get through two classes worth []
  2. actually… it was []
  3. and each “season” gets a title that I consider appropriate []
  4. and I gave it the name “Redemption”, for reasons which I may discuss another day []
  5. probably more of a convenience sample, if you want to be technical []
  6. as long as you’re not grading to be petty []
  7. at least some of them! []
  8. or are aspiring to be one []
  9. so multiply by the number of class periods… yeah. []
  10. which by the way, “working quickly” and “rushing through your work” are two very distinct things []


It’s true that we often find joy in the moments that we least expect.

This opening week has been one of the better ones1, in spite of a few2 administrative hiccups.

The regular classes remind me a bit of the Algebra II classes that I had in my first full year (2007-08). Those classes were huge and — at times — rowdy. But there was something about the way that those classes meshed that always make me think of them fondly.3 Those were the classes that I felt put me on the map,4 so to speak.

This is also the first year since 2009-10 that I have ZERO former students — every single name on my rosters is a fresh face. Perhaps that’s helping to contribute to the feeling that this really is the beginning of a new arc.

. . .

Most of the 34 seats in my 7th period AP Stat class today were occupied halfway into the PASSING period – kids were telling me they wanted to make sure they actually got a seat. I have never seen anything like it,5 and I was *rather* impressed, especially considering most of them are seniors, and that they had to rush over to the “freshman wing” to get to my classroom.

. . .

This is my fourth year teaching AP Statistics — and the third in which I’ve had the opportunity to place the full weight of my creative energy into it. It was never on my original “five-year plan”, and I’ll admit there are times when I wish that it had fallen into my lap a year or two6 later… but it has been a truly special ride every step of the way.7 The opening day introduction, along with the first few blocks, in particular, are an experience that I especially cherish and look forward to each year. It’s hard for me to explain how much I enjoy having the opportunity to teach a class in which the students can see the rubber *really* meeting the road.

I realize how incredibly blessed I was to have learned how to teach the class from a handful of very wise mentors.8 Enough cannot be said about the importance of the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next.

. . .

For those not familiar with the intricacies of the high school mathematics track:

Students can opt to take AP Stat right after Algebra II.

They can take it after Precalculus.

They can take it after Calculus AB or Chaos Calculus.9

They can take it after Calculus BC.

And they can take it concurrently with any of those starting from Precal.

And we get all of the above. Which is to say, the mathematical prowess of the students in AP Stat are of an incredibly mixed bag — and in this class, almost none of that matters. And that’s one of the things that I enjoy the most about the course.

I overheard a few kids walking out today saying that they were actually enjoying a math class for the first time. And… that’s what it’s all about.

  1. aside from my zombified-sleepwalk on opening day []
  2. I would elaborate, but… you either wouldn’t read it all or you wouldn’t believe it all. []
  3. in particular, the 8th period class that year that had 34 kids. That was a surprisingly special bunch. []
  4. and not just the pre-AP’s that I had that year… which were also incredibly special. []
  5. almost like folks arriving to church early… or Lakers fans getting to Staples early… []
  6. or three []
  7. One of these days, however, I’m going to write a novel about the pain that was year one of AP Stat. Six to twelve hours of reading / working problems / outlining / prepping every single Saturday from August to April. Absolutely zero exaggeration. It was beyond insane. I’m sure most others would do just fine with much less, but… that’s not me. And although it paid off that July, it’s something I would not wish upon anyone. []
  8. in particular, Cathy and Penny []
  9. Chaos Calculus is our “regular” Calculus course, which we are fortunate enough to be able to offer on our campus []

Barely in preseason form

Taking the whole summer off was nice. Feeling like I was three steps slow and stuck in molasses all day, not so much. Not a terrible first day by any means… but certainly not my best stuff, either.

For the moment, I now have more AP Stat students than I finished last year with.

Albeit with one fewer class period and about 3/4 of the physical classroom space.

Photo Aug 26, 6 12 05 AM

On the bright side, at least I don’t have two class periods of 40+.1

And yes… my voice is sore.

  1. knock on wood []