If you’re any good at teaching probability, you may want to just stop reading for at least a week. I’m on a probability kick as I head into introducing probability in AP Statistics.

I wrote earlier in the week puzzling through what to do about probability in my AP Statistics reasons. There are a variety of problems, but my biggest frustration is that I can’t figure out the problem. That doesn’t usually happen to me. When a lesson goes badly, I usually know which part. When my students aren’t getting it, I can usually narrow down where the disconnect is and then focus in on that. And with probability I just…don’t know. And it kills me.

I mentioned my drama to a coworker, who jokingly asked if I’d heard of formative assessment (novel!). I have, obviously, but my issue seems to come that they are able to do it until we mix things together, they take a test, and it all goes to hell.

So there are two major issues at play:

- I need to figure out where they are not understanding so that I can make a plan to fix it
- I need to give them ample time to practice.

I struggle with the last one. Sometimes I feel like I’m “wasting” class time if they just have a work day for their survey project, and yet I think they’ve gotten more out of really doing their surveys (I have a couple groups taking a true SRS of the school, despite my caution not to, and rocking it). So I need to give them probability they can do (you know, because I taught them so they can actually understand it), and then I need to shut up, step back and let them practice doing it.

I think that might look like two things:

- Letting them play with some pretty open-ended probability (like Fire!) and then talk about it, without strings attached or to prove a point. I did this last year somewhat when we would play Jackpot and just see what we got. No calculations, just let’s see. I also think Ben Orlin’s stories are awesome–go check them out now, and thanks Planting Ideas for the tip! I’m posting one on my class blog Friday.
- Giving them AP and pre-AP style problems on probability and letting them work those out too, maybe first in groups or pairs and then individually.

Oh, and back off my schedule. My pacing is good. I have enough time to review. Matching my own stupid calendar, which no one but me cares about, does not get me bonus points. Or even a cookie. If my goal is for my students to learn Statistics, and ultimately pass a college level exam, that’s where I need to go, not matching a timetable I made up.

What’s your best tip when you’re struggling with a topic? Any brilliant (or even decent) ideas about how I can help my students understand the basics of probability?