By Mari Mermelstein and Kelly Wilson
There are few numbers more loved than pi. It's so loved in fact, that we have an entire day dedicated to celebrating it: March 14 (3.14)! As there are not too many mathematical celebrations throughout the year, I feel as though we must ask ourselves, what's different about this irrational number? What is it about this number that hooks people into the world of mathematics? Maybe it has something to do with pi being a non-terminating, non-repeating decimal? Maybe all the excitement stems from the fact that pi and pie are homophones, and who doesn't like things that involve pie?!?
No matter the reason, Pi Day presents us with the perfect platform to celebrate mathematics in general and promote a more math friendly culture for our students and schools. We can do this by providing opportunities for students to engage with and succeed with math in low-stakes situations. City Year teams across the nation are capitalizing on this opportunity by creating fun, engaging math activities to celebrate Pi Day.
Take for instance, Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, RI. At this school, AmeriCorps members are helping their students celebrate Pi Day all week long! During lunch all week, students will have the chance to get artistic by decorating paper plates with numbers in the pi sequence. The AmeriCorps members will use the plates to build a pi chain around the entire cafeteria. The week will culminate with the City Year team hosting approximately 150 students and their teachers in the cafeteria for further pi exploration. Students will use string to measure the circumference of circular objects and calculate pi. For each correct answer, students will earn raffle tickets. The end prize? The chance to throw a shaving cream pie in an AmeriCorps member’s face!
In Seattle, the City Year team at Aki Kurose Middle School is taking a different approach to Pi Day. They are using the mathematical hype to get their students some extra practice with current grade level math standards. Each day, during the week of Pi Day, students will have a grade level math problem to complete during lunch. Students with correct answers get to spin a five-foot colorful wooden spinner to win a prize! Correct responses are also tallied by class to create some friendly inter-school competition. The week will conclude with “Parent Math Night,” a chance for parents to attend an evening event at the school and learn more about the math content that their students are completing in class while also exploring the use of technology in math.
But Pi Day isn’t the only day (or week) of the year where our AmeriCorps members try to make math fun and exciting for students. “When my students are negative about math and ask why they should care about it, I try to change their mindset. I want them to avoid a negative spiral. I know what that is like,” Tahia Islam, an AmeriCorps member serving on the Microsoft team at City Year New York. “I make a point of approaching math with a sense of excitement. It’s very important for me to share my enthusiasm with my students.”
Persistence pays off. Last fall, one of Tahia’s students was struggling to pass the math. Now, after daily math tutoring afterschool, the student is earning 100 percent on her homework assignments. “Building personal relationships with our students is key to helping them succeed,” Tahia said.Curious how others across the City Year network are building relationships with their students and celebrating Pi Day? You can follow all of the action with the hashtag: #CYPiDay
Looking for some last-minute ways to learn about and celebrate Pi Day?
Pi Day – Your Pi Day home base for videos, news & events, and other fun pi sightings.
Pi Day Fun Facts! Read about various ways people have approximated pi using other polygons, darts, and continued fractions.
Teach Pi: It's easy to just think about the mathematical applications of pi without thinking about the people behind pi. Along with great pi-related activities, this website features stories to help tell the "human history behind pi" such as the high schooler who memorized over 10,000 digits of pi, the Congressional vote to officially recognize Pi Day, and the origin of the Pi Day rap: "Lose Yourself in the Digits!"