Celebrate Pi Day! Getting Kids Engaged in Math

Nerd alert: I LOVE celebrating Pi Day! It is quite literally one of my favorite "holidays" to celebrate with my students. Yes. I consider it a holiday. It's that important. My students LOVE celebrating this day as well--sometimes questioning me as early as the first week of school about how we were going to celebrate it this year. 

So today, I'm dedicating a blog post to this most exciting day, since it's right around the corner. I hope you'll start getting into the excitement, too! 

For students, sometimes even mentioning the word math makes them get a little anxious and jittery. Even in my gifted math classes, there were always a handful of students who didn't love math, despite the fact that they were able to score in the 95th percentile (or higher) on nationally-normed achievement tests. This makes sense, really. Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you enjoy doing it. For me, I am pretty skilled at folding laundry. I mean, I can fold a MEAN fitted sheet with the best of them. Buuuut I don't love it.  

Not even  a little. 

That's why making learning FUN is so important for the students in your classroom. They don't all walk through those classroom doors of yours with the same bubbling-over passion that you have for the subject.  Fortunately for us teachers, though, with the right combination of joy, resources, comedic timing, and great teaching, they can walk out of your classroom with an increased appreciation for the subject at the very least. And for some students, the way you engage them can mean the difference between them feeling ho-hum about your subject, and them turning your area of expertise into something they end up wanting to pursue down the road as their own lifelong passion. 

We have so much power, teachers! Our motivation needs to come from this place of our profound ability to make a difference in children's lives every.single.day. 

Okay, stepping down from the soapbox. 

Back to PI DAYYYY! 

I was fortunate enough to be able loop with my students. I got to teach them math and/or language arts for three years in a row, which was incredible.  One side effect, though, of having students year after year is that you can't really reuse the same activities over and over again. So, after a while I began to amass a pretty decent repertoire of activities to use on days like Pi Day. So today, I'll explain a bit about some of my favorite activities for the nerdiest of celebrations. 

My students loved all things pi. They especially loved eating it, so I did make it a point to indulge them each year. I even had an awesome parent who volunteered to send in the pies, which was so great because it saved me a few dollars. If you celebrate Pi Day in your classroom, I would suggest reaching out to the families of your students. I always found that parents were always more than willing to donate things when I asked. 

My students also loved this simple beading activity. I heard of the idea from a fellow teacher at a math conference a few years ago, and I marveled at the 
simplicity. All you have to do is assign a color of bead to each of the digits from 0-9, then string the beads in the order of their corresponding appearance in the digits of pi. We saved black beads for the decimal. I found that buying the Perler Beads from a craft store or Wal-Mart was the most inexpensive way to get LOTS of beads in a variety of colors. I had kite string left over from another fun math activity, and it worked well for stringing, plus it's strong, so I didn't worry about them stretching and/or breaking the string while they worked. 

Another really great activity I did was an experiment with blowing and measuring bubbles. I had seen my daughter's preschool teacher using bubbles with soap and paint to make artwork, and it got me thinking about using that same technique with bubbles in math. Only, I just needed the bubbles to be temporary (and easier to clean up!). For this activity, students blew bubbles on a cookie sheet that we wet with the bubble solution. Make sure you don't skip this step, because the bubbles pop too quickly if you don't.  Students could just do this right on the top of their desks (hello, clean desks!), but we used cookie sheets because I thought the clean up would be quicker. It's a good idea to let your students play around a little with the whole, "I get to blow bubbles in math" novelty for a few minutes before they start working on the real activity. They WILL play, so why not give them permission? 

Eventually, the bubble pops, and lucky for us, it leaves a ring behind. I had students measure the diameter of the circle with a ruler. Then they used a sentence strip or string to measure the circumference of the circle. They recorded the measurements for each bubble on a recording sheet. Once their sheet was filled with data from their bubble-blowing extravaganza, I had them find the ratio between the measurements of the circumference to the measurements of the diameter (otherwise known as PI). If they were accurate with their measurements, their ratios usually turned out to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.14. It's an awesome experience to see their faces light up with the realization that they found pi, and for us math teachers, it was the kind of authentic learning experience that led them to a deeper understanding of what pi really means, instead of just tossing out a formula to them and hoping they could plug in all the right numbers and 'get it.' If you'd like a free copy of the recording sheet we used, email me at jen@soaringwithsnyder.com and I'll send you a copy. I promise I'll keep your contact information private. 

Other activities we did included listening to music that was composed based on the digits in pi. I read to them Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander, which you can buy here or listen to a free read aloud here. We composed poetry about our love of pi, had a pi memorization challenge, and so many other fun things. The best part of the celebration is that everyone had FUN. They were engaged, they were challenged, and if only for a brief time, they liked MATH! 

If you're as excited about celebrating Pi Day as I am, you should check out this Pi Day Tic-Tac-Toe Menu Board that I made. There are NINE of my favorite activities in the packet, including recording sheets with detailed directions for each activity, an answer key and rubric, a list of needed supplies, and a bonus memorization challenge class roster sheet. 

Maybe if someone had taught me to fold fitted sheets with activities like this, I'd be a Folding-Sheet Grand Champion, orrrr something like that. 

If you're looking to just tiptoe into Pi Day this year, maybe you'd prefer one of these other products instead...*Note, these are PARTS of the NINE PRODUCT Bundle. They're not different activities. Just providing options! Lots of options!  
Here's a mini-bundle of just three activities.👇🏻

Or you may like this this one, based on the bubble activity I mentioned above. It is always a hit. 

And here is a problem solving activity. If you're short on time, or want to assess the quality of my work, this is the way to go. 

Let me know if you have any questions! I'd be happy to help you make this day SO much fun for your students! 


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