Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pi Day on a Friday



Once a year an amazing day comes up on the calendar. It is the day that the numbers align so that the date reads 3.14. What is more rare than this date coming up, is when this date (known to math geeks like me) lands on a Friday. The alignment of these two things is a cause for celebration.


As our curriculum continues to become more difficult, standards continue to be raised and time continues to be compressed, I found myself doubting that I would be able to do this day justice this year. But reflection has lead me to the realization that I would do my students an injustice by not celebrating. Pi Day is an opportunity to get students excited about learning (and particularly math) and simultaneously engage in a completely abstract concept (). I figure if our schedule is interrupted at other times in the year for various holidays, there must be time in March to celebrate irrational mathematical existence.


So, how does one go about giving Pi Day proper justice, without throwing academic opportunity out the window? Our day will start with a musical introduction of “American Pi(e)” playing as students enter the classroom. This serves as a hook for the day, as music is not a typical part of our morning routine.


Once students are in, asking about the music, maybe breaking into spontaneous dance, we will start our day. Reading starts our daily schedule, and I believe it is important to maintain some routine even on days of fun. I will substitute my typical read aloud for Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi: A Math Adventure. This allows me to continue my typical response question Friday format, while integrating pi related activities into my time with the students. We can discuss use of mathematical vocabulary, theme, prediction, and plot summations all within this picture book text.


Math is where the major celebration comes into play. I set up stations for students to rotate through participating in a variety of pi based activities. Examples of stations this year include: a paper chain representing the digits of pi using colors to visually represent that the digits (colors) do not repeat, the chance to turn pi into artwork of a skyline, a pi memorization contest, the option to take a favorite song and rewrite the lyrics to include , try their hands at writing a pi-ku, and challenging themselves with various puzzles & problems involving geometric ideas and vocabulary. Of course, the celebration would not be complete without a pi(e) treat and some math to go along with it (fractions, circumference, area, etc).

Each year that I am able to inspire a bit of math excitement in my students is a year that I believe I have made a mathematical difference. As my students make choices about what they want to do to celebrate and express themselves in math class in nontraditional manners I see a different side come out in them. Students who often struggle, find math class success. Students who sit to the side without a partner on other days, become top choices for creative activities. Something changes in math class on pi day that allows everyone to be a math champion, and that I can justify spending a day on in math class.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

E-Portfolios

The idea for having students create e-portfolios (digital portfolios) has been rolling around in my head for years. First, I was talking with others about how they could set them up in their classroom, and for the past year and a half, how I could do them in my own Social Studies classroom. However, this idea had no place to go until now. The catalyst was an article I read a month ago about reflecting on learning. Oh, the article's content wasn't really important nor earth shattering, but the idea of reflecting on learning was. It isn't new, but it is something I realized we don't do enough of in my class. Best of all, an easy way to do it is through ePortfolios. Now the ideas started flowing and I knew we were going to start. 

All of the 7th grade students created a Google Site website one day as homework and they loved personalizing them! We did this before we started any writing as I didn't want to distract from either process. They also shared them with me on a Google form so that I could easily find them for grading. Finally, we prepared to write. 

Our first reflection was about poverty in India. The students evaluated it, discussed why we were learning about it, and compared it to life in America. They did an amazing job with their writing! Our second reflection was shorter, discussing pollution problems in India. Along with their writing, they created wonderful pictures, digitally or on paper, that were included in their reflection. This is where the e-portfolio component shows up. By using Google Sites, we can add many types of digital creativity to our portfolios. 


Today we are doing our third reflection. The student's have a choice of topics - monsoons or Gandhi. This is another important part of e-portfolios: Student choice. Currently, our portfolios look similar. As we go through the year, they will also house projects and independent learning. Since I will have the 7th graders next year as 8th graders, we will be able to keep these portfolios going to show two years worth of learning. The students have done such a nice job reflecting on their learning, that for our next unit, I decided their writing pieces will replace our unit test.