See the pi, eat the pi – A little levity in math and a little more than meets the eye

My family is convinced that I have a British sense of humor.    I’m not really sure why they have come to this conclusion.   It’s not as though they have any basis for this conclusion.   It has been three generations since the last family member hailed from the United Kingdom.   I’m fairly certain that any lingering effects of her particular sense of humor have been pretty well diluted in the last hundred years.   I choose to believe my family is simply trying to be kind by attributing my quirky sense of humor to some latent effects of a long dead ancestor.   The truth of the matter is probably more that my sense of humor is reasonably consistent with that of a nerdy eleven year old.     Lucky for me, since I spend many hours a day with similar creatures.   (By the way, the friends I have from the UK are no more or less likely to have this sense of humor than anyone else. )

I’ll come back to this in minute.   First, though, a little context might help.

Recently, I have spent a lot of time trying to find ways to meet the needs of a particular twice-exceptional student who has real difficulty with sequential thinking.    This difficulty can be particularly challenging in math.    It makes it hard to grasp long division.   It makes it hard to solve equations.   It makes it hard to do many things that entail sequential processes.   Beverly Trail, the author of Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children , provides a number of strategies for working with these kinds of thinkers:   begin with a conceptual overview building a whole-to-part understanding, provide a graphic organizer to guide thinking and build connections, and encourage students to use mnemonics to help remember formulas and steps.

I’ve been very consciously incorporating these strategies for several weeks now.   During the first few weeks, we worked through a unit on data.   Now we are working through a unit on area, surface area, and volume.   During these units, I have created a number of foldables comparing and contrasting concepts (several of them can be found on my Resources page) to try to help this student see the whole and the various parts.    After a few of these, I find myself almost automatically falling into this kind of mindset as I plan my lessons.  However, the mnemonic part of the recommendation has come much less naturally to me.   I am all about building conceptual understanding and have viewed most of the mnemonics as “tricks”.   Hence, it is a hard slog to get my brain around to the idea of teaching them to kids.   Honestly, if I hadn’t tried pretty much every other teaching technique I could find with only limited success, I probably would have balked at this.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.   I still couldn’t come up with a mnemonic   I could however, come up with a corny joke.   (Thank you, Great Grandma?)  Not a particularly funny joke, but it didn’t have to be.    The higher the groan factor, the better they might remember it.  I came up with two suitably “groan worthy” jokes – one for circumference (C d pi, eat d pi) and one for area (A:   pi r squared?   No, pi are round).  Then, I built a “Memory Trick” section into my foldable on the circumference and area of circles.   Students could put the corny joke in the foldable to help them remember the formula.


Area and Circumference of a Circle

At the end of the lesson, my non-sequential thinker walked out the door repeating the jokes to the kids in the hall.   That is a start.   We’ll see whether it makes a real difference when we have the quiz on Friday.