Stats: What’s a traditional math teacher to do with that?

Attending state-level meetings in recent weeks has brought me to the conclusion that many math teachers are rightly terrified of teaching statistics brought in with the Common Core (CCSS).  It’s not in our textbooks, we don’t remember much from college, and the kinds of statistics needed in a 21st Century market place have evolved from the need to find the average weight of a box of cereal. Supervisors of mathematics instruction need to know their teachers are not being stubborn.  Rather, lots of us are not comfortable, haven’t figured out how to get comfortable, and don’t want to mess up entire classes of students.  I’ve sat through several training sessions by statistics teachers.  I also taught high school statistics for a few years.  But delivering a cohesive statistics unit and appropriately integrating statistics standards into other standards aligned to CCSS is not so clearly defined when the textbooks we have are no help at all.

Teachers often wonder why, if statistics is so important, it isn’t taught as a separate class under CCSS.  When teachers use instructional materials aligned to CCSS, however, they discover how statistics unite, make sense out of, and establish relevance for many procedures that may previously have been seen as rote.  Until teachers have such instructional experiences, it is easy to understand why they might consider statistics as an encroachment on their curriculum content.

When districts choose a textbook, they typically consult the teachers.  Teachers naturally gravitate toward what is most familiar.  However, the CCSS have firmly shifted math instructional expectations toward the center, away from just memorizing rote procedure, and  more toward embedding concept. The modeling standards extend concepts and procedures far beyond textbook word problems.  Regardless of how new a textbook is or what is stamped on the cover, a textbook that is not aligned to CCSS will place students and teachers at significant disadvantages.  CCSS content is different, important connections are made (particularly with statistics) and students who receive instruction that is not well aligned with CCSS are disadvantaged on most standardized assessments.

The easiest solution, in my opinion, is to get advice from experts in CCSS alignment before choosing instructional materials. trains reviewers and their detailed reviews are free.  I’m certainly not out to sell anything here.  But before anyone assumes their teachers are “unwilling to change,” when it comes to teaching statistics, what they don’t know could be what is holding up progress.


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