I love celebrating Pi Day in my 6th grade classroom. Students rotate through stations throughout the class period, which makes this a timely post for @jreulbach’s Middle School Math Sunday Funday theme!
Pi Day is packed with activities, so we get started as soon as students enter the room. I pre-assign students to groups so that they’re ready to rotate between the stations. They have a packet of information and directions to take with them as they rotate between these 5 stations:
1- Pi Making Contest
2- Pi Digit Detectives (requires laptop)
3- Calculating Pi
4- Pi in the Past and π tattoos
5- Eating Pie
My packet is customized for myself and my students, but below are links to the files (Pages and Word versions), in case you’re interested in adapting for your own use. (The packet refers to Angel, which is our school district’s learning management system, in case you’re wondering. I highly recommend giving students access to bookmarks for the websites they’ll use, for the sake of time)
The Pi Making Contest is usually a favorite, but it isn’t what it sounds like! Students string pony beads (small cheap plastic beads) onto plastic craft lacing, competing to see which student can (correctly) represent the most digits of Pi within a 2 minute time limit. The fist year I did this, I had students string their beads onto pipe cleaners, but I can’t find extra-long pipe cleaners and some of my students would run out of room on their pipe cleaners before time was up. So I switched to 18-inch lengths of plastic craft lacing, tied in a double knot at the end so that the beads can’t slide off. I give students a printed list of the digits of Pi (a full page of them — I don’t know how many digits, but way more than they could ever do in 2 minutes). They also have a “key” for what color of bead represents each digit, 0-9. The key shows all of the colors representing 0-9, strung onto a length of pipe cleaner. I make it extra-difficult for them by not labeling each number. I just label the 0 end and the 9 end, with the numbers 1-8 represented by the colors in between. I also have a pre-made “answer key” to check students’ beads. Line up the answer key next to a student’s beads and check to see if they match, removing all of the beads from that point on if a student makes a mistake. As students rotate through the station, the group winner’s string of beads is labeled with that student’s name and set aside so that we can determine the class-wide winner. I always have a parent volunteer at this station, because the competition can cause students to get pretty rowdy! (For you non-crafty folks: plastic craft lacing is the stuff kids weave to make lanyards. Here are links in case you’re not sure what I’m talking about: pony beads and plastic craft lace)
Pi Digit Detectives requires internet access. My students have laptops, but if you have a few desktop computers in your classroom, that would work too. Students search for strings of digits that are meaningful to them within the digits of Pi. Here are a couple of websites where students can do this: One Million Digits of Pi and Pi Search. I require students to write the string of numbers they search for and record where in pi it is found, if it is found at all.
For Calculating Pi, students measure the circumference of round objects (like round lids from food containers) with ribbon, then measure the length of the ribbon and the diameter of the object using a ruler. Ribbon works better than yarn because it doesn’t stretch when it’s measured. Students divide their measurements to approximate pi. For the sake of time, I allow calculators at this station. I’m always surprised at how much help they need to measure with rulers, so this is a station where a parent volunteer is helpful.
The Pi in the Past and π tattoos is where students research the history of pi. I find that students tend to think that the mathematics they learn today has always been around, so it’s interesting for them to see how the idea of Pi has evolved over time. This station is the other station where my students use laptops, but if your technology is tied up with the Pi Digit Detectives station, you could print out information for students to use when answering questions. While students are working on answering the questions, they get their choice of a Pi tattoo. I order Pi tattoos from academictattoos.com every year.
Of course Eating Pi is a very popular station. I ask parents to send in pies and suggest that they cut the pies before they send them. Parents also send in napkins, forks, plates, and water bottles. I use a google doc for parents to sign up — that way I don’t end up with 1 pie and 1000 napkins, and it cuts down on the “what do you need me to send in” emails, too.
Usually students don’t quite finish the work for some of the stations, so I assign the rest for homework. I always let them know this ahead of time so that they work diligently while they’re in class!
I’ve always been fortunate to have a great group of parent volunteers. I couldn’t pull this off without 2-3 volunteers for each class! Even with help, it’s an exhausting day, but SO worth it. I’m always looking for great ideas for Pi day, so I’d love to hear what you’ve done in your classroom!