Pi Day Party Report

By: Mary Kienstra on: March 22, 2014  in: Engagement, fun, graphing, JFF, Math, pi day, pi day party

Everyone loves a math party!  Our pi day parties were late this year, but that didn’t matter.  I changed the celebration to include 2 days this year, since last year was too rushed all in one day.  This year is worked out very well – and we all had fun!
Day 1:  
Students brought in their pi day projects on day 1.  These projects were JFF – or what we call “just for fun.”  After all, how do you grade a variety of creative pi day projects?  Making a rubric for this would only stifle their creativity. 
Students brought in a variety of projects.  It was great fun to watch each one. We had student produced videos, fun facts, students (and a teacher) wearing a pi day T-shirt, power point presentations, songs, poems, and a variety of fun facts.  Each student was proud to share their information with the class and I think everyone learned a few things about pi.  

We conducted a survey to find each student’s favorite pie.  The choices were pumpkin, apple, peach, blueberry, cherry, and of course, pizza pie.  (Pizza was added to the list because some of the students had never tasted pie.)

At the end of class we all sang along to the pi day parody of Don McLean’s American Pie, “Mathematical pi.”   Everyone likes to sing along!

Day 2:

A bar graph of favorite pies

Pie chart of favorite pies, keeping with the pi day theme

The second day of this party began with a graphing activity.  Third graders created a bar graph of the data from the favorite pie survey.  Fourth and Fifth graders produced pie charts.  We try to graph as much as possible so that graphing is a familiar part of analyzing data.  This was a perfect activity to graph and an engaging way to practice graphing.
A brain pop video was the perfect segue into the next part of the lesson.  This video explains that pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.  Even though these students can recite the first several digits of pi, many are unsure what exactly pi represents.  
Next, third and fourth graders created the pi chain.  I cut 10 different colors of construction paper 1.5 inches wide and 9 inches long.  Each color represents a different digit.  As teams of students work together to create a section of the chain, they have to organize their work.  This part of the lesson truly forces them to work together to figure out how to get their colors, put them in order, and staple them into a chain.  Amazingly, this is a rather difficult task for some.  As the chain came together, they observed that there is no pattern to the colors in the chain.  

Creating the pi day chain – an exercise in teamwork as much as math.

Organizing the color code for the pi day chain

The pi day chain is coming together!

Fifth graders worked on an activity where they determine the ratio of the circumference to the diameter for a collected of circles that I provide.  I’ve collected lids from various sizes of plastic containers that are easy to handle and relatively easy to measure.  Students work together with a small group and use string and rulers to measure the circumference and diameter of each lid.  After they have made their measurements, they determine the ratio for each and then take the mean of those.  Surprisingly, they were close to pi!  As they finish, we discuss why the ratios that they determined with measuring are not exact.  They understand that their tools limit their accuracy.

Is knowledge of pi is in the Common Core State Standards for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade math?  I don’t think it is.  But I don’t care.

During the pi day parties in my class, students learn to find information as well as to present it in an interesting way.  They practice “audience manners” as they watch each other’s presentations.  They learned to make a pie graph or a bar graph to represent information they collected in a survey.  They used teamwork to work together to accomplish a goal.  They discussed why the ratio of their measurements was not exactly 3.1415…. and they observed that there is no pattern in the colors of the pi chain.  I’m sure we could justify these in the Math Practice Standards if necessary.  

Most of all, these students had fun!  They felt that they were doing something special because we called it a pi day party.  I think this is something they’ll remember about their math experience.  Every year, several former students send me pi day emails, reinforcing my idea that this is a memorable experience.  I’m committed to engaging my math students with a solid math curriculum, but sometimes you have to veer off the path to have a bit of fun and enjoy math!

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