Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Celebrating Pi Day in Sixth Grade

One of my favorite parts of Spring Break is the feeling that I can get "all caught up." Now I know in my heart that this not gong to going happen. I am not going to grade all of the papers in my bag, plan for the week ahead, empty my car, sort through my closet, clean out the garage, paint the kitchen... I'm pretty sure that many things will not be crossed off of my To Do list--especially since I stood in the grocery store for almost five minutes yesterday trying to decide between two flavors of ice cream (the final winner: Ben and Jerry's Imagine Whirled Peace... yum!)

But this post isn't about ice cream... it's about Pie... okay, PI to be exact!

pie graphic from KPM Doodles and pi graphic from The Enlightened Elephant
 We celebrated Pi Day on March 14,and I took pictures throughout the day--but the pictures never made it into a post. So, with the endless possibilities of Spring Break in mind, I am catching up and writing my Pi Day Post. A little late, but still within memory.

This was a fun day for a Pi celebration because most of my students had never heard of pi or Pi Day. A few had had siblings in my room in previous years, but otherwise, most kids didn't expect such an unusual day!

Some students were a little perplexed about my shirt and earrings, but most simply didn't notice (you just never know what is going to matter in the lives of sixth graders--apparently my attire does not make it onto the list!) Click the pictures to take you to some options for these Pi Day accouterments!

We started the day off with "graphing" our favorite type of pie. I had predicted chocolate or apple to be the clear winner--I was wrong! Who knew that many kids actually like pumpkin pie?

Next I gave each table a box of cans and and and a ruler. I have learned from previous years that I need to begin this lesson with an investigation of how to use a ruler.

You will notice that the "zero point" on the ruler is NOT on the edge! I reminded the students that this would be an important consideration as they completed the measurement activities that would follow (They didn't have any string yet--but this photo shows the difficulty of measuring... especially when you don't know how to use the tools!)

Each table grouping (six kids) had five cans to measure. They worked in partners, which meant there would be no waiting if they finished measuring one can and were ready to move on to the next. I asked them to measure distances in centimeters because their measurements could easily be stated in decimals.

They had a data sheet in which they were asked to measure around the can (using the centimeter side of the ruler) and then across the can. I did not yet use the math vocabulary associated with the task (and, sadly, not once did I hear a child say circumference or diameter...).

Here's the best part: I watched as they tried to measure the distance around a can with a ruler. They really tried. Finally a savvy sixth grader asked: "Do you have something else, like maybe one of those ribbon-things with numbers?" (With cooking, sewing and building things no longer common, our students clearly lack real-life applications for using math!) Trying hard to keep a straight face, I gave each table an envelope with colored string. It didn't take long for them to figure out what to do next!

I asked the students to divide the "distance around" by the "distance across." I did allow the students to use calculators for this task. Their long division skills are not always strong, and I didn't want their calculation skills to interfere with their discoveries...

They measured and divided and measured again. Things got complicated when the ends of the strings unraveled, so some asked for new strings and others resorted to using more-than-enough tape to secure the fraying ends. I asked them to choose the two calculations they felt most confident about and to round these answers to the nearest tenth. Then I asked them to place sticky notes on the number line closest to their answers.

The results were impressive. If they had an answer that did not fall on the number line, they put the sticky in the "outlier box" (above or below the designated points on the number line.)

They worked as table teams to summarize the data.  Answers included "Most everybody got an answer around 3.1 or 3.2 or maybe 3.3 when they divided around the can by across the can..." and "When you divide the 'distance around' by the 'distance across' you usually get answer that is between 3.0 and 3.3" (air quotes used... sweet!)

Following our charting, I used a flip chart where we switched over to "math vocabulary." We traced circumferences and diameters and practiced the calculations. Finally, At some point, a student said, "Hey! That's why we got all of those numbers around 3.1 and 3.2! If you divide the circumference by the diameter, you get 3.14 and that's pi and that's what we got!" Discovery!! (There were also a few who said "Now I remember this from last year..." I can only hope that their experiences from today will stick with them a bit longer...)

I used the several pages from "Miss Math Dork's" packet “So, You Want to Be π-lingual?!” to add pizazz to my flip chart. We took the discussion to formulas and then practiced finding circumference and then area. 

Afterwards, the students worked on the task cards in partners. Why is it that task cards make math so much more enjoyable? (I don't know the answer to that question, but I sure am glad that the students will do the same math that is covered in their book--but without complaining or avoiding the work!)

Click on the image to find this item on TpT
We had some fun practicing making the "pi sign posters" using different colored markers. If you haven't seen the "Pi Day Domino Video" (not the actual name, but it's the way I always search when I need to find it!) on You Tube, you should check it out. Watching the video brought up the concept of precision in mathematics--and domino placement!

I have used the same "Pi Day" song for years and by this point in the day, we were ready for something silly...
If you find yourself in the mood for a silly song, click on the image above to take you to a copy of this one!

After lunch we did several activities from this great packet by teaching by hart. In particular, the students enjoyed the memory game (I put this in a flip chart so they could see it on the Promethean Board), draw-a-circle contest and find your birthday in the pi digits--but there are lots to choose from! The packet also includes the first 2000 digits of pi. We decided we would try to memorize as many digits as we could for a contest the next day--and I would accept the challenge along with them.

Click on the image to find this item on TpT
The kids had been asking about the beads in the back of the room (They don't notice a giant pi sign on my shirt, but they had spotted the beads within five minutes of entering the room!)

I found a blog post at Cheers to School blog which describes making "pi bracelets" by using colored beads to correspond to the numbers in pi. (See it HERE) Since the numbers do not repeat, I thought that this visual would illustrate to the students the lack of a pattern in the digits in pi. And, I thought that the activity would give them a chance to prepare for our "Pi Competition" scheduled for the next day. Beyond that, it would be FUN! With all of the preparation and anxiety over report cards and benchmarks and state testing, fun has been in short supply lately.

There were different "bead boxes" to choose from, so the students were regrouped according to color choice! The students' first task was to assign colors to each of the digits they would be "stringing."

Click on the image to find this item on TpT
Students tied the "3 bead" into the start of the string. This separated it as a whole number. We had decided that the decimal would be paired with a black bead, so that came next, but all other colors were of the stduents' choosing.There were lots of different combinations and everyone enjoyed seeing how the assignment of colors affected the overall look of the string.

 By the end of the afternoon, the strings were impressive!

We finished our time together by sharing what we had learned throughout the day. I have to admit that I was delighted that they could recall so many things that we had practiced.

Still, my very, VERY favorite part of the whole day came at the end. I have a student who generally doesn't choose to talk to me. She participates reluctantly in most things school-related, so I was pleased to see her joining in on most of the activities that unfolded today. The bell had rung and we were all hurrying to get  out the door. I was standing in the doorway, with the sixth graders streaming down the ramp, when I noticed one figure struggled back up the ramp. She stopped about three feet away and  looked at me quickly before averting her gaze. And then in a sweet, soft voice she said, "Thanks for letting us do beads and Pi Day." With that, she scurried away.
My heart was warm as I walked my group to the breezeway where we departed for the day.  And I left school with a positive attitude--and without a headache!

Why can't EVERY day be as wonderful as Pi Day?

PS Here's an update: The following day, everyone participated in our "Pi Contest." We discussed in advance that applause was in order for every participant because it takes bravery to stand in front of your classmates and try to remember something as "random" as pi. The students were very serious about the challenge and not one person laughed at anyone (although a few got the giggles once they tried to remember the string of numbers.)

I got as far as 3.14159265 which was not particularly impressive when measured against the skills of the sixth graders. The "winner" was able to recall 47 digits of pi--and she took home a gift card... for ice cream!


  1. That little sweet 6th grader's comment was so sweet! I'm so glad to contribute to your awesome Pi day celebration! I loved seeing the photos of my bead project! Very cool. Also, thanks for the Pi poem, adding that to my collection.

    Cheers To School

  2. Pi DOES equal love ... what a wonderful breakthrough for you and your girl! Thanks for sharing your successes with us ... what a day! Only a loving teacher would give her students that kind of a day!!

    Keep up the HEART work.


  3. I can't wait to try these ideas out next year. Thank you for sharing.

    Daydreams with Miss D

  4. It sounds like you had a great Pi day, full of lots of excitment for the kids.
    I think we are tied for number of digits memorized! One of my students broke my class record this year by memorizing 218 digits! He went beyond the digits I supplied on a little study sheet. My mind was blown!
    I heart Pi day!

  5. She remembered 47 digits???? I can't even remember my first name lately!!

    I LOVE, LOVE these activities-using them next year if I teach math. Lord help us all!


  6. I did some of the same activities for my PI Day celebration. You have great photos. I have not uploaded mine yet...we did the bracelets too! The kids loved it. If you get a chance you can hop over to my blog and download some freebies that you might want to use next year:)

  7. Kim~ I am so jealous that you had time to do Pi day activities this year!
    I have always done a ton of things with my sixes too, but this year I could not take a break from our common core prep. Since that isn't part of our currciulum anymore and I am feeling behind I couldn't fit it in. I was so disappointed! Your class looked like they had a great time. I'm hoping to squeeze it back in next year.
    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  8. Wow! I just posted about our Pi Day Celebration this morning - ha! You're right - Spring Break is definitely a time to get caught up with things. :-) This was the first year I was able to celebrate Pi Day, so I wasn't exactly sure what would work or not. I absolutely love your bracelets - I'll have to bookmark your page for next year. Thanks for sharing!

    Mrs. Allen's 5th Grade Files


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