My first Pi Day was chaos.
It was fun, but I definitely did not enjoy it as much as would have if I had planned it more carefully. More importantly, I did not feel like the kids learned much. Even to them, I think it was a little let down.
In "student speak," Pi Day is equivalent to Party Day. Beginning immediately on the first day of school, after going over first day routines, a hand goes up with a question. Each year, without fail, a student asks, "What are we doing for Pi Day?" even though its months away!
To them, is the holy grail of math class. The day that they will finally get to have fun and celebrate in the classroom.
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 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.
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.
I leave out special Pi-themed paper for drawing or writing. I also set out some blank white paper, so each student can choose.
I served pie only at one station (the book one). This is a perfect time to pull out your Sir Cumference books!
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While the kids read, I offered them each their preference of pie to enjoy. I had only one side table with tall stacks of pie boxes, and only had to clean one student table at the end of the day. Only one box of each flavor was open at a time. I also had to only have one trash can, right next to that station. So much smoother!
I loved these tweaks, and it actually made the day more enjoyable for the students, too.
IDEAS & TIPS
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:
- Invite students to give $1 donation for each of their pieces of pi instead of getting them for free, whether it's in the classroom or at a big math club table in the cafeteria. Send the donations to the charity of your math club's choosing.
- Ask each student to bring a can of non-perishable food (must be cylindrical!). Have them measure it and calculate volume and surface area. They must hand over correct answers as well as the can of food in exchange for a piece of pi. The cans can go to a hunger center near your school.
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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