by Tara Truesdale, High School Math Teacher
What would summer camp look like for a teacher? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are teachers. I had the privilege of finding my summer camp this year when I was invited to work for the College Board as one of their AP Readers. AP Readers are college professors and experienced high school teachers who come together from all over the country to grade the free response portions of AP tests for the subjects that they teach. I love teaching AP Statistics and truly believe it is one of the best and most applicable classes for students to take. I realize that I am quite biased (and can explain the proper definition), but AP Statistics requires kids to think critically and understand highly applicable information (and also provides a lot of opportunity for fun and treats in the classroom).
I was one of about 870 AP Readers for Statistics invited to Kansas City, Missouri, to help grade over 220,000 exams (over 1.3 million questions) in a mere seven days. This is truly an amazing feat because the College Board (and all of the readers) all share the same priority: that every reader grades consistently according to the same standards so that every student receives the same score no matter WHO is doing the grading or WHEN during the week grading takes place. It was exciting and astounding to be a small part of something so big.
Why would someone volunteer to grade papers for almost 60 hours? No teacher enjoys grading, but as with most tough activities in life, you learn so much more when challenged. I have spent years using the questions and solutions for AP test questions in my own AP Statistics class. (I know, you only see when we are experimenting on Barbies, gummy bears, or cookies, but these kids work hard solving hard questions.) An AP Reader has to know the question inside and out and spends hours to be able to grade consistently as a part of the team and gets to see so many more different solutions from students who think differently and solve the problems differently. We have to be able to see details in each problem (and the ways students will solve it) that aren’t always apparent otherwise. We can easily prepare our students for both the best ways to think critically and find effective and complete solutions as well as avoid the mistakes.
In addition to this extremely intense professional development, there are opportunities every evening including a forum with the College Board leadership, a keynote speaker in the field of Statistics (one of the head statisticians from Google), classes on different technologies for classes, and even a Best Practices night (where some of the best teachers in the country share what works best in their classes), as well as debriefings on the problems during lunch. Now, don’t get me wrong, we also have a lot of fun. I was honored to be adopted as an acorn (first-year reader) by the social team that deals with everything from nerdy t-shirts and buttons, a fun walk/run that is based on “predictions” instead of speed, a social lounge where we get to play games and get to know each other, and a “Funstravaganza” to laugh about the problems that we have been living for a week, and celebrate a job well done with closing information, videos, songs, skits, and a lot of geeky jokes.
To sum up the week, I spent my week not only grading AP test questions but bonding with and learning from people who are passionate about Statistics education. Normal conversations during the day and evening include college professors sharing what they see as important preparation and high school teachers talking about how to reach students where they are. Everyone is talking about how to make statistics more accessible for students because we see that understanding data is a part of everyday life. We can share about our struggles and our successes as we build relationships with others who understand our classroom better than anyone else. We can comfort, challenge, and celebrate as we help each other become better teachers even when we go back to being miles apart. It’s no wonder that most of us refer to the week with huge smiles on our face and excitement in our voice as we get to spend the week with over 800 of our closest friends!