Monday, March 14, 2016

Pi Day is Silly. (but I still want to love it!)

I think to be a good teacher, you have to love teaching, love learning, love kids, and love your content area. You don't have to love them all equally and there can be parts of your job that you like better than others... but you certainly can't dislike the subject that you teach!

So, I love math. My love of math has grown as I grow in my own understanding. But I do love it. I love how numbers work. Prime numbers? Fascinating! Dodecahedrons? Beautiful! Fractions? Useful!  ... and Pi? Yep, I love pi!

Today happens to be Pi Day. This is my 11th year of celebrating Pi Day. I've done everything from bringing in pie, having memorizing contests, investigating the ratio itself, and circle drawing contests. I have been in my own little world, proudly wearing pi t-shirts and pi earrings! My family and friends know I like pi. My brother bought be a pi pizza cutter. My daughter wore a onesie last year that says "Cutie Pi." I myself have 30 digits memorized!

Until I was on Twitter, I never really knew there was a controversy around this "holiday." My beloved #MTBoS is divided today between teachers sharing math puns and teachers having a more "ba humbug" attitude.

I'm having a little moment of feeling a bit embarrassed about my enthusiastic appreciation of Pi Day! I want the "cool teachers" and my "tweeps" to take me seriously... 

Here are some thoughts about the controversy:

1. Is it silly? Yes. But I teach middle school, and embracing the silly is often the "hook" to get my students engaged.

2. Is it necessary to memorize any digits of pi? No. But it's just for fun! I mean there are a lot of contests that people do that aren't really necessary. Crossword Puzzle championship, World Freehand Circle Drawing Championship, sports, etc. It's impressive to learn something or be able to do something better than others. Check out Alex Overwijk (@AlexOverwijk) and just try not to be impressed:

3. Is pi that special of a number to deserve a day of celebrating? Yes and no. I mean it is a constant. We want students to understand that the ratio of a circle's circumference to diameter is always equal to pi. We also want students to understand the difference between rational and irrational numbers. So, it's important. Is a day dedicated to it necessary, maybe not. As Patrick Honner (@MrHonner) shares on his blog, make it meaningful.

4. Does this "holiday" trivialize the important and serious issues going on in math education in America? Look, I get it. There are serious issues that many of us are struggling with everyday. Issues of fixed mindsets, attitudes towards math, equity, progressive vs traditional, how to assess, etc, etc. I do not take any of those issues lightly. However, if there is a day where I can show a fun video or two, spark some interest, have some conversations, and put a crown on a kiddo's head for memorizing numbers, I'm going to do it!

(cute kid in crown... teacher with huge baby bump!)

5. Is this a made-up "holiday"? Yes, of course it is! Similar to Valentine's Day, you can either be all grumpy and miserable about it, or you can get dressed up, go out for a nice dinner, and enjoy yourself! Why be grumpy and worry if the day is mathematically pure. Put on that pi shirt, eat some pie, and live a little!

(my student made me this!)

I have found that kids look to me for the tone of the class. If I say, "sorry kids, we have to learn about ___ today. It's not exciting, but we will get through it," that is the tone the kids will have. No one wants to get excited about learning when you set it up like that! Go ahead and get excited about numbers! You like tessellations, great, show it. Does probability make you happy? Shout it from the rooftops. Some of your students might be willing to match your excitement, but no kid wants to be a bigger math nerd than you. I'm willing to be the biggest math nerd in the classroom. Are you?


  1. Yeah! Me too. This nerdy excitement is one of the easiest things to be contagious with. Love for a beautiful derivation often comes only after we win them with this lighter, silly, enthusiastic love of our subject.
    Students that graduated 5 years ago still email me on pi day. And I know it is not serious or deep, but it makes me happy to think I am still bringing a smile into my former students lives. There are worse ways to be remembered.

  2. Great post! I also teach middle school and have celebrated Pi Day for 20 years! Lots of enthusiasm and learning taking place. And this year, the day after spring break offers a fun day to grab the kids' attention and get them refocused on math as we head into the homestretch of the last few weeks and standardized testing. We will be celebrating Square Root Day this year! (4.4.16)