Pi Day

I never paid much attention to Pi Day, until I worked with a particularly wonderful and enthusiastic math teacher. She declared (and rightly so) that if she had to teach reading and writing in math class, other teachers should have to teach math in their classes as well. She lobbied long and hard and was

successful in getting March 14th declared as a Pi-focused day for all classes and subjects in our 5th-8th grade classes (it was a K-8 school). This began a tradition that continued through the years and was so popular the students even came to school on Saturday one year because they wanted to celebrate on the day–not before.

Pi Linguistics Shirt

As an ESL teacher, I decided to put my own spin on the celebration. Dressing up was always encouraged for special events, and there are plenty of Pi Day t-shirts out there for purchase, but I wanted something that would be unique and relate to my field as well, so ended up designing my own shirt that I still wear each year, even though I teach ESL at a college now. The front says Pi Linguistics and the back says, “Homophones–We sound the same but are different where it counts!” I printed the designs onto iron-on transfer paper, ironed them onto a white t-shirt, dug out a red long sleeve t-shirt and black skirt, and my outfit for the day was ready. If you’re desiring your own Pi Linguistics shirt, you can download the templates (they will print backwards, as is required for the transfer) using the button to the left.

The Math Lesson

An ESL teacher does more than teach students English, we also support them in other classes, such as math and science. Vocabulary acquisition is a big part of that support, and the vocabulary for Pi Day was no exception. We talked at great length about words such as circumference and diameter. We read the book Sir Circumferece and the Dragon of Pi, and we drilled the various formulas until it seemed we were reciting them in our sleep. The students still weren’t fully grasping the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle though.

It was at this point that I decided to try a little discovery hands-on learning. I planned out a lab in which students would measure the circumference, diameter, and radius of various sized circles. They’d then divide the circumference by the diameter (and get pi). Finally, they’d find the area of the circle (another skill they were struggling with). Our math teacher already had a fun Pi Day activity planned where students would do something similar with various cookies, and I didn’t want to take away from her fun, but I did want our beginning-level ELLs to be prepared to fully participate with their team (she was planning a race-style competition). So to get my circles I turned to the person who’s solved many of my teaching-material needs dilemmas: my father. My dad is the one who solved my spinner problem by designing and building CD Spinner Stands, and my matching game issue by designing and building Match Up Boards (the building plans for both projects are free downloads). I explained to him what I wanted, 4-6 circles of various sizes, and he went to his workshop, cut them, sanded them, painted them, and gave them to me shortly thereafter. I then gathered my other supplies: sewing measuring tapes (since they are flexible it eliminated the need for students to stretch string around the circles and then measure the string), the graphic organizer (download for free using the button above), and some calculators.

After thinking about the lab a bit more, I decided I wanted to add a bit of a challenge for early finishers. This desire led me to the PE teacher’s office where I begged and bribed (it’s amazing what you can get with a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in hand) my way into being allowed to raid his collection of sports equipment. Since many sports balls are of similar size, I chose only a soccer ball (my students’ favorite sport). Other circular equipment I found included frisbees and hula hoops. I then quickly added a second page to the graphic organizer and was nearly ready for our discovery lab day.

The last step was the extra incentive I promised them for finishing the entire lab without whining (or with less whining than normal–I was dealing with middle schoolers after all). I baked several different kinds of pie so everyone could enjoy a sweet treat before returning to class. As I was doing this activity with newly arrived ELLs (all less than a year in the USA), I baked traditional American pie flavors: cherry, apple, and pumpkin. Several of the students had never had any of the flavors and they loved trying these new “American” desserts.

As you can see in the first photo, the final result was something of a mess all over our table, but I didn’t mind cleaning it up in the least. The lab had accomplished it’s goal, and my students seemed to fully grasp the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle. They’d also been given the opportunity to participate in a similar activity to what they’d be doing in class later that day, allowing them unpressured time to process and understand the directions–an invaluable opportunity for our lower proficiency ELLs.

Whatever your plans for Pi Day next week, I hope you enjoy them. If you’re still unsure what your plans are, feel free to try one or more of these ideas. My students and I enjoyed them and I think you will too. Happy teaching, everyone!