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Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day at Weston was uneventful, except that one of my students brought in a virtual pie. Actually it was a chocolate cake, but at least it was round. And she had intended to write some of the digits of pi on it. At least we got to watch the music video of the first half of Mathematical Pi, and two of my classes got to listen to the audio version of the whole song.

For further perspective, I note two reports from colleagues on the Web:

The pseudonymous Minneapolis math teacher, Three Sigma to the Left, reports a certain class distinction:
Since I’ve been here at this school I’ve always had at least one class with kids who cared about something to do with academics whether it was education for its own sake or education because they know they have to. And these kids know π Day. They know that it is their math teacher’s favorite day of the year.

Year after year here I’ve had kids want to have a party to celebrate. Have pie. Sing stupid songs. Someone always has π memorized to some ridiculous number of digits. I always tell the students that I can’t have a party because the administration won’t allow them (not true) but “if you throw a surprise party, I guess that really wouldn’t be against the rules.” Then I leave the room for a few minutes while the kids figure out who is bringing what and I don’t have to do a thing.

Now I have the lower kids. Not one has even mentioned π day. I find that astounding since they must have done something in middle school. You would think that they must know anyone in another class who is having a party.
I’m troubled by this concept of “the lower kids,” but we know what he means. At Weston High School (where, let us remember, all the children are above average, even though it’s a regular public high school) we have honors-level classes and college-prep classes, but we don’t have honors-level kids and college-prep kids. A student can be in an honors math class but a college-prep chemistry or vice versa. Nevertheless, I see somewhat similar reactions, where there’s enthusiasm for Pi Day in honors classes but not so much in college-prep classes. However, the distinction is blurred, apparently in contrast to Minneapolis: many students in one of my college-prep classes were enthusiastic for Pi Day and even insisted on having the virtual pie at precisely 1:59, which they immediately amended to 1:59:26. So there, I say!

The second report is from my friend and colleague Tamisha Thompson, whose blog is so appropriately titled “3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971...”:
This is the first Pi day that I did NOT have a pi memorization contest, in all my (9) years of teaching. I really miss having the kids randomly storming up to me and shouting digits of pi all day. The classes I visited today were all doing different sorts of pi day activities: one class was measuring circular objects and dividing circumferences by radii (heh — I just wanted to say radii), another class was estimating the radius of a basketball, a third class was calculating pi from a hula hoop, then using the circumference to estimate the revolutions per minute while someone used the hula hoop (although I have to imagine that the calculations were a little off, since you probably have to take into account said hula-hooper’s waist measurement and the actual distance the hula hoop travels), and a fourth class was using the Internet to find answers to some pi challenges such as “Which Greek mathematician is given credit for creating Pi?”
You can tell that that’s middle school, not high school. (And I have a philosophical problem with the question of “creating pi” rather than “discovering pi,” but that’s another story...)

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