It's time to modernize the AP Stats curriculum
The suggestions below are based on the College Board AP Statistics Course Description, Effective Fall 2010. Citing this description, “AP teachers are encouraged to develop or maintain their own curriculum that either includes or exceeds each of these expectations; such courses will be authorized to use the “AP” designation.” However, AP teachers are constrained by the statement that “The Advanced Placement Program offers a course description and exam in statistics to secondary school students who wish to complete studies equivalent to a one semester, introductory, non-calculus-based, college course in statistics.”
Too much material for a one-semester course
I tried to teach AP Stats in one semester following the College Board description and methodology. That is, with no derivations, giving only recipes and concentrating on applications. The students were really stretched, didn’t remember anything after completing the course, and usefulness of the course for the subsequent calculus-based course was minimal.
Suggestion. Reduce the number of topics and concentrate on those, which require going all the way from (again citing the description) Exploring Data to Sampling and Experimentation to Anticipating Patterns to Statistical Inference. Simple regression is such a topic.
I would drop the stem-and-leaf plot, because it is stupid; chi-square test for goodness of fit, homogeneity of proportions and independence, including ANOVA, because it is too advanced and looks too vague without the right explanation. Instead of going wide, it is better to go deeper, building upon what students already know. I’ll post a couple of regression applications.
“Introductory” should not mean stupefying
Statistics has its specifics. Even I, with my extensive experience in Math, made quite a few discoveries for myself while studying Stats. Textbook authors, in their attempts to make exposition accessible, often replace the true statistical ideas by after-the-fact intuition or formulas by their verbal description. See, for example, the z score.
Using TI-83+ and TI-84 graphing calculators is like using a Tesla electric car in conjunction with candles for generating electricity. The sole purpose of these calculators is to prevent cheating. The inclination for cheating is a sign of low understanding and the best proof that the College Board strategy is wrong.
Once you say “this course is non-calculus-based”, you close many doors
When we format a document in Word, we don’t care how formatting is implemented technically and we don’t need to know anything about programming. Looks like the same attitude is imparted to students of Stats. Few people notice a big difference. When we format a document, we have an idea of what we want and test the result against that idea. In Stats, the idea has to be translated to a formula, and the software output has to be translated into a formula for interpretation.
I understand that, for the majority of Stats students, the amount of algebra I use in some of my posts is not accessible. However, the opposite tendency of telling students that they don’t need to remember any formulas is unproductive. It’s only by memorizing and reproducing equations that they can augment their algebraic proficiency. Stats is largely a mental science. To improve mental activity, you have to engage in one.
Suggestion. Instead of “this course is non-calculus-based”, say: the course develops the ability to interpret equations and translate ideas to formulas.
Follow a logical sequence
The way most AP Stats books are written does not give any idea as to what comes from where. When I was a bachelor student, I was looking for explanations, and I would hate reading one of today’s AP Stats textbooks. For those who think, memorizing a bunch of recipes, without seeing the logical links, is a nightmare. In some cases, the absence of logic leads to statements that are plain wrong. Just following the logical sequence will put the pieces of the puzzle together.