On my first try, I tried to embrace the fun. I had a short activity, but it was not really structured enough. All I wanted to do was avoid 45 minutes straight of Pi Party.
I had told my classes ahead of time that they could bring any round treat to share. As part of our activity, each student would answer a question one at a time and then get their turn to go serve themselves from the giant treat buffet (a long table that took up one entire wall of the room!). This turned out to be a big mistake. There were too many options of food. And too many ridiculously messy treats. Being middle schoolers, they brought tall dishes of oreo pudding with a flat spatula instead of a scoop, big crumbly cookie-pies on paper trays that did not fit, cakes that had been smashed when they fell into the aisle in the bus.... etc. One kid even brought a pizza. But only one, so everyone wanted some, and there clearly was not enough.
I refused to give up on the math content portion of the day, so I was trying to run my Pi Day Fact musical-chairs style learning activity I had developed while trying to also help each student navigate the messy dessert bar at the same time. Again, it was definitely chaos.
Of course I learned from my mistakes. So I'll share some of the upgrades that I made to make the day run more smoothly.
I cracked down on the treat options. It made a world of difference to limit the offerings. The following year, I decided that from now on, students could bring only pie, and only two varieties. We set up the options ahead of time. I let the kids vote, and it turned out that everyone was ok with either apple pie or chocolate pie. So those two flavors were the only ones that I allowed them to bring. That way, when it came time to serve (which I only did for one group at a time -- see the stations idea below), I only had to ask each child which flavor he/she preferred, then serve it.
I also made myself the only pie server. This was definitely worth it. I structured the class period so that the student activities ran themselves. This freed me up to serve one group at a time. Shockingly, I had much less mess to clean up at the end of the day.
Another key: I required that the pies be brought in boxes. This meant that I could stack them by flavor, and eliminate the monstrous buffet line.
So, how did I structure the class period so that the learning activities could run themselves?
Well, we math teachers love our Pi Day as much as the kids do. It's our special dorky thing, where we get a day to celebrate the coolness of math. I'm all about the fun and variety. However, I learned that for my own teaching style, I really need it to be more structured.
I settled on the idea of stations, or centers, that would cover all the activities I wanted to do. This filled the time so nicely. No time was wasted. Plenty of learning was accomplished, but students still felt the joy of a fun celebration day.
For station 1, I laid out a bunch of different round objects, and had kids measure with string. They recorded their observations for a few and then derived an estimate for pi.
In Station 2, students receive a Pi Fact Sheet with fun tidbits about pi and its history. Using the sheet, they are asked to develop something creative to share a few of the facts. It can be a poem, song, graphic, etc....
I leave out special Pi-themed paper for drawing or writing. I also set out some blank white paper, so each student can choose.
Stations 3, 4, and 6 are fun worksheet-style stations. Students do a word search in one. In another, they apply pi to determine what size pizza is the best deal by finding price per square inch of pizza. The 3d one focuses on a spherical ball.
Even on a fun day, clear guidelines, defined expectations, and a little structure go a long way!
IDEAS & TIPS
1. Be sure to include different types of activities if you offer stations. Make sure you throw in a little something for the hands-on learners, something for visual learners, reading out loud for auditory learners, etc. I loved that each of my students had a favorite station, since I incorporated all of these.
2. Another Pi Day idea that I love is to include a charitable donation. This idea works for high school level, too! There are two great ways to do this:
The stations that I use are available in my TPT store. I also have a copy of Pi doodle notes you may want to try! They offer a fun and colorful way to engage your students. Read more about doodle notes here.
Remember to set clear expectations. I announced ahead of time that if students got stumped on a station, they should wait until I had finished the pie serving, then I would come help them until the timer went off to switch tables.
I love the changes that I made, and now am even thinking of making it a 2-day event. I think it would be great to have time for both the stations AND the doodle notes in the same week.
Enjoy Pi Day this year with your students! Hopefully, this post gave you a few tricks to have up your sleeve as you plan, implement and manage the day. Have fun!
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I prepped this by cutting a bunch of straws all in the same place. That way, I could just swap out colored sets so that each table had this:
For something this quick, I like to keep it as a full-class guided inquiry. Just say "Without measuring, I can tell you you may assume that both of these new "straws" are the same length. Now what if I told you that the yellow and blue pieces are also the same length? What could you conclude about the green and pink pieces. Why?"
Give some time. Allow them to discuss with a partner. Yes, it's obvious, but require each pair to come up with a very clear explanation of WHY.
Then, have them write it out (just in a notebook or on scrap paper for something like this). It only takes a minute, and does not require a formal worksheet. When students think they have a great explanation, allow them to share it out loud with the class.
This is a great opportunity to zero in on properties and vocabulary. I'm a big stickler on this. It is so crucial that students do not write that the pink piece is "equal to" the green one. I also do not allow explanations that say "the yellow piece plus the pink piece." Students must say that "the length of the yellow piece plus the length of the pink..."
I always feel like I cannot possibly over-reinforce the fact that measurements can be equal, whereas segments are congruent. Otherwise, when we lead into proof writing, I see angles being added instead of angle MEASURES being added.
I like to show this slide to clarify that over and over! (Check out proof writing in more detail here.)
Once they really tweak and perfect the explanations, develop an official postulate together and clarify that now they can use this new "Segment Addition Postulate" to justify steps.
The key to the guided inquiry process is that the students have noticed the properties that are at play here, and they explore it enough to write their own postulate. It's hard to hold back, but don't be tempted to feed the postulate to them. They'll get there eventually as you slowly help them revise their "explanations."
Next phase: Tell a story!
I like to tell the students stories about real-life projects, so for this one I chose to use a bench that my husband and I just built. Feel free to steal my story (I stretched the facts to make the math situation work anyway, but I willingly admit it). And project or display my bench pictures as your sample if you want!
"We were assembling this lovely bench at my parents' house, 3 hours away, because that's where all the good tools were. So it was sitting there on the garage floor covered in wet paint until our next road trip to go pick it up. I wanted to put it in my daughter's room when we brought it back home. I was getting all the furniture moved around in her room, and making space for it. I was wondering if I could fit it under the window, when suddenly I realized I had forgotten to measure it! We did not follow any particular plan to know the exact dimensions! However, I had taken a photo of our hard work, and I knew that we had used 2x4s for the legs. (Explain that 2x4s are actually only 3.5 inches wide.) I remembered cutting the bottom front faces to 14 inches each. Can I figure out how long the whole bench is?"
Of course, they will be able to handle this math. They could have answered the problem in 4th grade. Make sure to then lead into variables and replace each 3.5 with an x, and each 14 with a y. Then show the next picture, and ask them to write an equation that's more complicated. Try taking out different missing pieces of information. Ask them if they knew the full length, how could they find one piece? This will lead into sample problems. Have students set up an equation for only AD, then for AE, etc.
Wrap it up by going back to the straws. Now, give them measurements for each segment (as expressions with variables!) and ask them to write an expression representing the length of all 4 of the pieces lined up as one long segment.
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