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A Pi Day lesson they could sink their teeth into

East Grand Rapids – There was no pie on Pi Day. 

But there were lots of other treats March 14 on a table at the back of room 212 in the middle school: doughnuts, cookies, cupcakes, muffins and more. 

A table overflowing with treats, and for sixth-grade math teacher Laura Woolford, each sweet was an opportunity for her students to have a hands-on lesson they could eat when they were done.

The class began with some instruction from Woolford about what the giddy group of students would need to accomplish before they made their way to the treat table.

“We have a full agenda,” she told her students. “I need you to have self-control if we’re still going to get learning done in addition to our celebration.”

As students settled into their seats, she put the symbol for pi on the screen and asked: “What does this mean, and why are we studying it today?”

“It’s pi,” several students excitedly shouted, and another added: “Today is March 14, which is three one four, and pi starts out with 3.14.”

“Yes,” said Woolford. “It’s great to have Pi Day. It’s what we’ve been studying, so today is a double wow.”

For the next 30 minutes or so, Woolford went over various concepts related to pi and the constant of proportionality, a mathematical concept that pi is part of because in the relationship between the diameter and circumference of a circle the constant of proportionality is 3.14 (and then some).

‘I like that we get to have a treat during the school day when we don’t, usually. But it also is getting incorporated into learning. So it’s a fun activity that is hopefully encouraging us to learn more.’

– Emmarie Wells

She brought her students around for a story called “Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi,” showed a short video called “Mr. R’s Pi Song” and had them measure the circumference and diameter of three different circles, divide the circumference by the diameter and see how close their answer was to 3.14 each time.

Emmarie Wells measures, calculates and celebrates

‘You Can Take One of Everything’

And then came the treats. 

“Okay, form a line, and you can take one of everything,” Woolford instructed. Most students took her up on the offer and returned to their seats with plates full of food ready for measuring tape and calculator.

And although the math was less exact – it’s hard to measure the circumference of donuts and cupcakes, students decided – they gave it their best shot.

Adam Timek had a few calculations that were near 3.14 and a few that were a bit off, but he didn’t care.

“I love this,” he said, trying not to talk with his mouth full. “It’s so cool we get to learn pi this way.”

Tallulah Stares was equally effusive. “I think it’s really fun,” she said. “And I think being hands-on will help us remember.”

Emmarie Wells thought the same. “I like that we get to have a treat during the school day when we don’t usually,” she said. “But it also is getting incorporated into learning. So it’s a fun activity that is hopefully encouraging us to learn more.”

For Woolford, that kind of thoughtful processing makes the Pi Day treat celebration worthwhile.

“The next day when I do my warm-up with the students, I come back to Pi Day and make sure the students are understanding pi and the constant of proportionality,” she said. “And I find that the treats help them better understand these concepts in a real-world scenario. 

“And they like that it’s something they can eat.”

Sixth-grade math students measure circles on a handout and calculate pi
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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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