Chicago teachers ready for World Math Day, Pi Day

Math may be the most universal of school subjects, but it’s also often the most universally disilked. But there’s nothing like a fake holiday to ramp up enthusiasm (see: Casimir Pulaski Day), and this month, a pair of semi-celebrations can combat that negativity toward numbers.

Ideas to celebrate math

  • Card Sharps: Using a standard pack of playing
    cards, each player randomly picks a single “target” card, then five
    more cards. Remembering that Jacks are 11, Queens 12 and Kings 13,
    use basic math functions – addition, subtraction, multiplication
    and division – to get to your target card. Whoever gets there
    fastest wins!
  • Math Bling: Take non-matching craft beads and
    assign the different numbers of pi to each one. Then string onto a
    bracelet for a visual representation of pi. Kids will easily be
    able to see that there’s no pattern to it, same as the decimal. And
    they can wear that reminder every day.
  • Reading [Between the] Lines: Math adventures,
    including “Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone” and “Sir
    Cumference and the Dragon of Pi,” are favorites in Jarrett-Clancy’s
    classroom. Your little readers will enjoy these stories so much,
    they won’t even realize they’re learning!
  • Play Time: A take on the age-old party game of
    Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Pin the Radius on the Circle involves
    blindfolding your little mathletes, pointing them in the direction
    of the circle and seeing where they end up. After the fun,
    calculate the real radius of the circle.
  • Old School: Have your kids estimate the
    grocery bill, measure the area of a window or cut the measurements
    of a favorite recipe in half. Remember, math is all around, so have
    fun with it.

World Math(s) Day takes place on March 1 and Pi Day will be celebrated on March 14, in honor of the number, which rounds off to 3.14.

The online competitive event began in 2007 when students from 98 countries answered enough math problems correctly to break a world record. Each year since, the number of participants from around the world has grown.

Kids ages 5 to 18 can sign up at to participate in the free online competition on Feb. 28 – a day early to account for global time zones.

“[Math] is just a popular thing around the world,” says Amy Jarrett-Clancy, a fourth grade math teacher at Newberry Math and Science Academy in Chicago. “Math is more universal than language, and so it’s something that people naturally can go to.”

She also points out that different countries and cultures have different approaches to solving basic math questions, which can be exciting for kids to realize during an international event like World Math(s) Day.

The event is quite popular around the world – participating countries include Malaysia, Romania and Iran – but is gaining ground in the United States. Jarrett-Clancy, who has a master’s degree in teaching mathematics, had never heard of the event before this year

Pi Day – held on 3.14, just like the number – tends to be the biggest celebration of math in American schools. And this year, with state ISAT testing happening on World Math(s) Day at many Chicagoland schools, Pi Day remains likely to take the cake in terms of local math merriment.

But whether you celebrate on 3/1 or 3/14 or someday in between, Jarrett-Clancy says it’s important for parents to bring math into everything they do, whether going to the grocery store or playing games.

Math is no longer simply about memorizing times tables or crunching numbers. The “new math,” Jarret-Clancy says, is about thinking, problem-solving and discussing.

“We’re looking to encourage kids to think like mathematicians instead of robots,” Jarrett-Clancy says. “We’re asking them to do more and at an earlier age.”

And just as growing up in households with lots of books and bedtime stories can help nurture a love of reading, kids will pick up attitudes about math from their parents.

“Just stay positive,” Jarret-Clanc tells parents. “I think a lot of times people pass on a negative attitude about math. Let kids explore and come up with their own opinion about it.”

If you get confused, your kids can teach you.

“They love being able to teach their parents something new,” Jarrett-Clancy says

And if all else fails, try YouTube.

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