AP Statistics Course Perspective

Print this page
beginning of content:

Please note: The official College Board® Course Description is available below in "More."

Unlike the AP Statistics course description, which outlines the scope and nature of the course, this introduction focuses on the teaching and learning experience. The teachers who pioneered this program were deeply committed to it and excited about the benefits it could bring to their students. I believe their enthusiasm was rooted in (1) the discipline of statistics, (2) their experience with their students, and (3) the collective professional community they created.

Because the science, art, and practice of statistics differ significantly from other fields of mathematics, it is not surprising that this discipline is also taught differently. Among ecologists, there is a concept known as the "edge effect," the biologically active, interstitial region that forms a boundary—for example, between a forest and a meadow. As the eminent statistician John Tukey noted, the field of statistics allows you to play in everyone else's backyard. Statistics is positioned at the edge between the known and the unknown in all those backyards. Our classes are populated with students who possess a bewildering variety of interests, some of which are allegedly nonmathematical. Statistics can encompass and expand those interests, and provide the methods and concepts for creatively extending knowledge in all of their backyards.

The AP Statistics classroom is nothing if not active. Students analyze data with calculators and computers, conduct classroom experiments, carry out individual and group projects, and perform simulations involving probabilistic concepts. AP Statistics students are active, engaged learners. Moreover, these students would not necessarily be enchanted by a traditional mathematics course. The AP Statistics course not only accommodates students with a wide variety of interests, it also serves those with a relatively wide range of math proficiency. Discussion in an AP Statistics class is an activity for all students. Group projects are less likely to be dominated by the most able student, and individuals can succeed by capitalizing on their individual interests. A more healthy learning and teaching environment is difficult to imagine.

It has long been a fact of life that AP Statistics teachers are lonely members of their math departments. The preservice preparation of most math teachers today does not include a statistics course, and high school statistics teachers have less opportunity to bounce ideas off their colleagues. (This phenomenon is also not unknown among statisticians teaching in some colleges.) Ironically, this isolation, together with the power of the Internet, has spawned what is possibly the most collegial resource available to high school teachers—each other. From the very beginning of AP Statistics, an electronic discussion group (EDG) operating out of British Columbia attracted statistics teachers to ongoing discussions of content, philosophy, and pedagogy. This EDG, now operating under the aegis of the College Board®, created a synergistic network that has aided hundreds of high school teachers, as well as college and university professors who realize the importance of the precollege statistics curriculum. Sessions at the annual meetings of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, statistics institutes at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and a growing number of Web sites have been direct consequences of this long-range collegiality. Clearly, this is the way our profession ought to work—and nobody has done it better than the AP Statistics teachers.

In the light of the first six years' experience, the AP Statistics phenomenon must be declared an incredible and enduring success. It is a success not merely by the numbers—173,944 students have taken the AP Statistics exam in the past six years—but because of the personal and professional experience of teachers like you, and the learning experience of students like yours.

Authored by

  • Chris Olsen
    AP Statistics | George Washington High School
    Cedar Rapids, Iowa