• Mar 132015

Pi Day and using humour in maths

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When was the last time you started a maths lesson with a cartoon or a joke? It’s time you started…

Every March 14th, lovers of maths around the world celebrate Pi Day. Here in the U.K. it’s 14/3, but for one day we’re happy to go U.S.-style so the date reads 3/14. At the time of writing (2015), it’s a particularly interesting year, because if we include the year and a time just before half past nine, it reads 3.14.15 9:26:53 — the first 10 digits of pi (this is the first time you could have done this in a century)…

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It’s been calculated to billions of digits, but often it gets shortened to 3.14159. If you draw a circle, cut a piece of string the length of its width (the diameter) and see how many fit around the outside (the circumference), it should work out as slightly more than three. This is what Pi is — a number slightly more than three.

Every year for the past four years we have illustrated a set of e-cards to celebrate Pi Day for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (we’re freelancers for hire — do get in touch!). We’ve posted these on Pinterest here and, as a taster, here are some of the images you can find there.

Feel free to share them, tweet them and use them in your maths lessons. Do give NCTM a shout-out and check out their Illuminations website as well as letting us know how you use them.

Perhaps you need to be questioning whether you should be celebrating Pi Day at all, anyway… It’s a Welsh thing, don’t you know?!

Using humour in the classroom is a way of motivating, interesting and engaging students as well as diffusing tension and showing students that even the toughest subject can be boiled down to a simple joke. We don’t need to be stand-uo comedians, but a simple smile or a groan can be a way in to a lesson… “What did that cartoon mean? Let’s ” So (in our book) humour’s a massively important classroom strategy. Speaking of books, here are two to help you with that strategy in maths lessons:

If you’re a maths teacher who likes hooking students into lessons with humour, do check out the work of Patrick Vennebush. His Math Jokes for Mathy Folks is well-worth investing in as something not just to amuse yourself and your students, but to use in class. His blog of the same name is excellent — witty and thought-provoking. Every post either sets off a spark of inspiration for a maths investigation / lesson idea or just leaves us confused (in a good way)… We can’t sing his praises highly enough. Fascinating and smile-inducing stuff.

Another witty maths book worth mentioning is Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets which does what it says on the tin. Did you know many of the writers behind the Simpsons (and Futurama) have mathematical backgrounds? In fact, several have given up academic careers in maths to write for The Simpsons. Their mission? To infiltrate our homes with some pretty complex maths without us even realising. Another book to pep up your maths lessons with.

A quick mention must also go to the folks at Solve My Maths who have designed a whole series of Mr Men characters with a maths theme…

They’d make a great classroom display. There are simpler ones for KS2 age and more complicated ones for secondary school. The entire set of posts are here. In fact, whilst you’re on the site, have a root around — there are some great ideas on there.

We’ll end with our favourite maths joke at the moment.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the Möbius_strip?
A: To get to the other… Oh.

Happy Pi Day, anyway, and here’s to some lively maths lessons as a result. Just don’t listen to this guy…

If all this chimes with you, you’ll enjoy our Game Show Maths resource. “Nice to teach you, to teach you…”

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So, what do you think?

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