Due to being out of school on Pi Day and attending STEM Day the day before, we had to celebrate an early Pi Day on March 12th. My students didn’t seem to care that we weren’t actually celebrating on March 14th. And, hopefully, you won’t care that I’m finally getting around to posting this MONTHS later.

Students entered the classroom to be wished a Happy (Early) Pi Day!

Several days before our celebration, I informed them of the upcoming holiday. Most of my students had never heard of pi day before. I invited students to enter Drumright High School’s First Annual Pi Recitation Contest. I told them about a website called Pi Trainer that will help them memorize the digits of pi, but I’m not sure if any of my students actually used it.

If I do say so myself, the prizes for the pi recitation contest were pretty awesome. The winner from each of my six class periods got their choice of a box of candy. Well, my sixth hour winner got what was left, but all my other winners got to pick.

And, the student who memorized the most digits all day won the grand prize. All of the snacks in the grand prizes were circle shaped. Appropriate, right? 🙂

One of my students commented that this was “Diabetes in a bag.” I told them that if they won that they were welcome to share their goodies with a friend. They didn’t have to eat it all themselves! And, they especially didn’t need to to eat it all in one setting!

In my excitement of celebrating Pi Day in grand style for the first time, I planned way more activities than could be achieved in a 50-minute period. I ended up doing different activities with each of my classes.

Do you know what supplies you need for an awesome pi day celebration? String, toothpicks, and tennis balls. What do these have to do with pi? Read and see!

I stole all of my pi day activities from this link.

First hour, we did a cutting pi activity.

Students looked around the room to find circular objects to trace.

Then, they cut a piece of string equal to the circumference of their circle.

Next, they stretched the string across the diameter of their circle and cut it. Repeat. Repeat. Wait, my string now only goes across 14% of the diameter. Well, that’s what was supposed to happen. My students didn’t do the best job of measuring and cutting, so only one group ended up achieving pi pieces of string in the end.

I decided to skip this activity in my later hours and try something different. We tried tossing pi instead of cutting pi.

Here are the instructions:

Ideally, this activity, also known as Buffon’s Needles, is used to reach an approximation of pi. Some of my group’s approximations were much more accurate than others.

Students had to work carefully to construct parallel lines whose distance apart was the exact length of a toothpick.

Giving students toothpicks often leads to unintended activities. One group decided to make pretty designs with their toothpicks.

Another group was highly disappointed when I wouldn’t give them more toothpicks to continue building their toothpick tower.

Students laid their papers on the floor and tossed the toothpicks from their desktops.

After tossing all of their toothpicks, they used the given formula to approximate pi. We didn’t really have much time to get into why exactly this process works.

After all, we had other things to do like eat pie!

Students asked if we could have pie on pi day. I told them we would gladly eat pie if they brought it.

My fifth and sixth hour classes each had a student bring a yummy pie to share with the class. The pie cutting and eating took up a chunk of time, and these classes ended up doing less activities than my morning classes. But, they got to eat pie, so I don’t think there was any complaining!

I love incorporating music and singing into my classroom even though I think I’m a pretty terrible singer. I sang a lot more this past year, and none of my students ever put their hands over their ears and screamed, so I guess I’m not too bad.

First hour, I gave my students the option of singing The Pi Song which is to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” My students did not want to participate. So, I made a fool of myself and sang the song by myself. For the rest of the day, I didn’t give students the option of singing. I just announced, “Now, we are going to sing The Pi Song. It’s to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” After singing a few bars of the original, I asked, “Are you ready? We’re going to sing together on the count of three.” And, all of my classes participated. My second period Algebra 2 class really got into the song, and they didn’t want to stop singing it.

We sang the song at least twice in all of my later classes. The janitor came in the room to empty the trash during one of the songs, and I’m pretty sure that she thinks I’m crazy. Oh well…

We also took a little over three minutes to learn what pi sounds like. My band students found this video to be riveting! [Video embedded below. If you are reading this in your e-mail, you may need to click over to see the video!]

One of my students proclaimed, “This is proof that math can be beautiful! And, I didn’t think I would ever say that.”

The main event of the day was the first annual recitation contest. Most of my students had not practiced outside of class, so I agreed to set a timer for three minutes to give them some extra review time. One of my students countered that they deserved three minutes and fourteen seconds to practice. I agreed that this was fitting and gave him a piece of candy to reward his creative mind!

Since pi is was projected on the SMART Board and on my filing cabinet in the back of the room, I made students stand in the back corner of the room, facing the door, to recite their digits of pi.

I projected the digits on the board in columns of five so students could easily follow along with the student who was reciting. This made calculating the number of digits they recited correctly much faster.

The winner, one of my 8th grade Algebra 1 students, memorized 43 digits of pi. Another 8th grader had memorized more digits, but he sadly made a mistake in his recitation. You could tell that he was heart broken.

I used plot.ly to make a beautiful box plot of the number of digits memorized by each student. This does not take into account the many students who did not participate in the memorization contest.

One of the awesome things about procrastinating in writing this blog post is that I only learned about plot.ly a few weeks ago. See, it pays to procrastinate sometimes!

My mom picked up some boxes of nerds candy for me during Valentine’s clearance time, so I gave them away as prizes in the next contest. Unlike the pi recitation contest, this contest required no skill or effort.

We searched pi to find out whose birthday showed up the farthest in the digits of pi. The link we used to search pi was https://www.angio.net/pi/piquery

As we looked up each student’s birthday in pi, they wrote the digit location of their birthday on their dry erase boards. The student with the highest number won the candy!

Throughout the class period, I showed pi day comics between each of our activities. One of my favorite ones to show each class was this e-card.

I put it up on the board without explanation. When the students read it, I wish I had thought to take a picture of their confused expressions. What does this have to do with pi day? Is this a joke? I don’t get it! Why did you put this up there? Is it because she has cups in her hands and the top of the cup is round?

I assured them that it was related to pi day, and I had faith in them that they could figure it out if they put their minds to it. Eventually, the kids were begging and pleading with me to explain the joke. Tell us, please! We want to know!

I gave in and asked the class how many letters were in the first word in the sentence. 3. How many letters are in the second word? 1. What about the third word? 4. Light bulbs started coming on. My students admitted that it was pretty cool, but they were still a tad mad at me for “trying to trick [them]”.

I closed out each class period with an activity called Seeing Pi.

Seeing Pi asks a thought-provoking question. Which value is greater – the height of the can of tennis balls or the circumference of the can of tennis balls?

To me, the answer is obvious. But, my first instinct was wrong. Try writing out a mathematical expression for both. You might just be surprised, too!

In one of my classes, my students refused to believe the mathematics. We ended up cutting a piece of string the length of the circumference and holding it up to the tennis ball can. This made believers out of them!

I also had planned on showing some pi day youtube videos, but I showed up at school to realize that my school had decided to block youtube all of a sudden. So frustrating!

This video helps students memorize the first twenty-five digits of pi. It’s kinda catchy.

Another video I wished I had time to show my students was this Numberphile video on how pi was almost changed to 3.2. Interesting stuff!

So, there you have it. This is how we celebrated Pi Day in the tiny town of Drumright, Oklahoma. I’m hoping to make next year’s Pi Day celebration bigger and better. Is it bad that one of the first things I do when I get the school calendar for the next year is to check and see if we will be in school pin Pi Day? Sadly, Pi Day 2015 will be on a Saturday.

I’ve still got a ton of pi day activities and ideas that I haven’t got a chance to use yet. Good thing I’m not planning on quitting this profession any time soon!

Emily Bower

Thursday 5th of June 2014

I have completed the circle activity several times with my students where they have to measure the circumference of a circle. As you have probably found, it is difficult to get string to lay perfectly on top of the circle, which leads to inaccurate measurements. I use Wikki Stix with my students (look them up on Amazon, etc.). They are pieces of string covered in a wax material, so the Wikki Stix stick to the paper, making it a bit easier to get a more accurate measurement. I have students use their fingernails to mark on the Wikki Stix how much of it was used, so that when they spread it back out to measure they know how much was used.

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Thursday 19th of June 2014

I've heard of Wikki Stix but never used them. They sound like they would work perfect for this! Thanks for sharing!