The Joy of PI

Today’s guest blogger is our Whole School Whole Child Math Project Leader, Jackson Goodman. 


Photo by Sunny Shin.
PI Day at Newtown High School

In honor of Pi Day (the date of this math holiday, 3/14, gives the first three digits of the famous number,) after school students at John Ericsson Middle School (JEMS)  in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, competed in a series of alternating math and physical challenges.  What I loved about the “Tri-Math-Alon” was how smoothly the students transitioned from working together to overcome physical challenges. to working together to solve mathematical ones.  The students knew that to get from start to finish line in proper wheelbarrow fashion they would have to support one another.  The same support (rather than carrying a classmates’ ankles, they shouted methods, guesses, and corrections) enabled our scholars to calculate how many feet they had moved their shared burden in any given second.

I saw in them the joy I find in math, the joy of collaborators throwing together ideas in a manic dash to apply reason to our chaotic world.  With corps members as their guides, the students of JEMS found the same joy in math that they had found in running around.  They could use their logic and their intellect as a means of excelling in the face of challenge.

Jacksongoodman2The following day, at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens, more than 150 students took time out of a busy midterm week to join corps members in playing math and literacy games.  Some students struggled to master “Set,” a game played with shapes and colors.  Unfazed by a superficial lack of “applicability,” corps members lead students through the joy and struggle of putting their brains together to recognize patterns and claim victory.

Our students face serious challenges every day, in and out of school.  If they can take joy in math and problem solving, they can take joy in inheriting the challenges of their communities and trust in their intellects to bring them success.

Classmates brought their heads in from all angles, blurting out urgent suggestions to the scribe desperately scratching out hope for victory on a piece of notebook paper slowly dampening in the chilly March rain.    Pi day reminded me why we introduce fun into math education.   I saw a vision for the future in students willing to get down on their hands and knees on the rough asphalt, volunteering their backs as desks. The corps members had given their students the opportunity to see their minds as powerful and important.


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