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A Teacher’s View: Pi Day Makes Math Engaging for Students — and Demonstrates Math’s Importance in the World Outside the Classroom

This blog was originally posted on The 74

I’ve taught math for 23 years, and that’s meant 23 Pi Days. Every year, people make puns about pizza pies and fruit pies and the number pi. Yet past the fun associated with March 14, I’ve found that Pi Day is an opportunity to help students learn how to solve problems in the classroom and throughout the world around them.

Pi Day is a way to engage students in a fun, timely, and relatable way. Every teacher understands the constant challenge of making our subjects and lessons engaging for kids, and Pi Day provides a natural hook for math. I teach eighth-grade math, geometry and algebra 1 – and pi is important in all these subjects. In my classroom, students explore how pi is related to working with anything circular. Technology provides a great opportunity to engage students and to explore how the area and volume of these various shapes are related to each other. And in our everyday lives, pi has enabled us to learn about the big sphere called Earth that we all live on, and how inventors from centuries ago through today were able to understand how these relationships work to create the circular and spherical things we use daily.

Education has changed a lot since I went to school, with high academic standards moving away from rote memorization to emphasizing critical thinking and different strategies for solving problems. Every child is different in his or her learning, growth and needs, and educators strive to help the students in their classroom figure out how they learn best and what steps they need to take to reach their goals. In my experience, students have taken this to heart. In thinking about their futures, more students in my classroom today talk about how they want to make a difference in the world and solve important issues, not just about the money they will make. With polls showing Gen Z youth ranking societal impact as one of their top priorities in a job, educators will continue to play a critical role in showing students how they can apply their learning in school to what they will do later in life.

Pi Day is a strong example of this. The different ways that my students approach the concept highlights the distinct ways they learn, and as a teacher, I’m here to help each of them grow in those methods of understanding through ways that align with rigorous standards that foster their success. While one student might want to learn about infinite numbers by seeing how many digits of pi she can remember, another might explore how pi helped architects create famed circular buildings around the world.

Although not everyone can appreciate the beauty of the mathematics surrounding us, it’s important to give students the time to explore the mathematics in our world, and Pi Day is a perfect opportunity for this. Opportunities like Pi Day help educators, parents and communities connect math and other critical subjects to kids’ daily lives and the problems around them that they are eager to explore. And high academic standards and quality assessments ensure that we are adequately preparing students to take on those issues through every phase of their education.

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Jane Porath is an 8th grade mathematics teacher at Traverse City East Middle School. Throughout her career she has been active in the mathematics educational community in various ways. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She has been involved in the development and writing of a nationally recognized curriculum and has provided professional development for other teachers across the nation. Most recently, she was selected to serve on the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council. Through these roles, and many others, Jane has worked to improve the educational system that impacts all of our children.