A Path to Statistics, Part I

Meet Antonio

Antonio and I met by Zoom for the first time in mid-2019. We were part of a discussion circle on Facebook, and somehow we got to talking. We were both watching the chaos of American culture, wondering how far it might descend, sharing perspectives from different parts of the U.S. map, and wondered aloud how those of us who wanted to avoid the madness could stay outside of it.

While Antonio is a high school dropout with no college degrees in the family, I quickly surmised that he is quite intelligent. He communicates his thoughts well, his insights are sharp, and he chooses to think deeply about current events after reaching outside his personal zone of experience (rather than to absorb somebody else's grand ideological take or narrative). I enjoyed the several conversations and exchanges we had over the next few months after our first meeting. 

Fast forward to late 2020, Antonio, now in his mid-late 20s, was interested in elevating his career path. Since Antonio enjoyed math classes most in high school, a mutual friend of ours working in insurance in Los Angeles encouraged him to think about a career in actuarial sciences. When Antonio told me about this, and how he would like to pursue that path, it struck a chord.

Despite my success in finance, my primary vocation has been as an educator. Having helped build a large specialized online school for talented math students (~700,000 registered in the forums alone) where I wrote half the online classes and a couple of the textbooks (and contributed in ways to several others), and built two brick and mortar schools thereafter, I've been looking for new opportunities to improve the world of education, or at least the education of the world. While the online school was the most profitable, monetarily speaking---involving scaling technology to a certain degree---I gradually came to the conclusion that personal relationships and community are still the primary technologies of education. Personal agency trumps all else as those who have it learn how to learn, and then learn at will thereafter. Good guidance helps students build a foundation of agency. In an age when more and more Americans are moving to homeschooling, with many others considering the shift, that relationship aspect is something I'd like for more parents to witness and understand.

My friend and former business partner Rob Sperry watched me teach years ago (2006 or 2007) and has several times told me that I needed video of my teaching in order to help people understand what it is that I do [to entice students to sit and think hard about concepts and problems not ordinarily approachable in a regular class setting] that works. And he is right that such videos would help me to teach the teachers (and perhaps the parents first). The problem is that filming students often requires the headaches of dealing with family permissions, not to mention attention to the technologies of filming and production. Though I've taught thousands of hours of class, the process was demanding---before, during, and usually after class. There was simply never the time.

Times change. Over the past 15 months I have recorded a number of classes and posted them on YouTube. Though I prefer teaching in person and my old personal classroom design, with white board from floor to ceiling (~41 cents per square foot as of 2013) nearly 360 degrees around a room where usually a dozen students can work almost as if I were mentoring each of them one-on-one (see the spectacular results of the Benjamin Bloom Two Sigma Problem), at least Zoom allows for easy recording. The experience is not the same, but the practical world involves some give and take, and I'm no longer interested in working 60 to 90 hours a week paying rent at a 3500 square foot facility serving over a hundred families at a time. That is a younger man's game, so to speak.

So, when Antonio mentioned to me his interest in actuarial work, I made him an offer. I would teach him for free (I usually charge an hourly rate of $120 to $500) if he allowed me to record and upload video of our work. Fortunately, I already had a great deal of curriculum prepared---much of what he needs to refresh his basic mathematics, and then to advance through the arts of combinatorics (the mathematician's fancy word for mathematics of stuff we can count), probability, and statistics. He agreed, and we got started.

Sadly, the first two lessons are lost. The second went accidentally unrecorded, and I somehow misplaced the video of the first. This means that viewers of our lessons cannot see us refresh lessons on counting from early PreAlgebra like "counting with arithmetic", "Venn diagrams", and "permutations". The first lesson covers "corrections for overcounting" which leads into the topic of combinations later on.

Perhaps you know somebody who will be interested in seeing Antonio's progress. While our third lesson (the one above) took place on January 14, 2021, within two months Antonio was happily spending six hours on his own between lessons studying the materials---even to the point of working ahead. In that time he went from not remembering how permutations are counted to solving problems used in national high school competitions, often unsolved by that kid you thought was "the math genius" at school. If Antonio continues to work like this, and takes the SAT, I suspect that he will crush the math section---after least after we have practiced the remaining topics. More importantly, Antonio is on his way to demonstrating to building a new technical skill set. And I am enjoying every minute of it.

I have eight additional videos in production and will post them here, sporadically. Maybe you know somebody who might benefit from them---please share this if you do.