Finding needed PD and digital resources to celebrate math much more often. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Justin Karkow

CREDIT t-shirtI have big plans for Pi Day, which each year, is celebrated on March 14. For the uninitiated, Pi Day is an annual celebration honoring Pi, the numerical value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Recognized by the United States House of Representatives in 2009, Pi Day shines a bright spotlight not only on Pi, but mathematics as a whole. Since the first known Pi Day event was held at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, math enthusiasts have gathered each year at sites around the world for activities and events that celebrate the significance of Pi and mathematics in our everyday lives.

Evolving instruction is one of the keys to igniting students’ interest in math.

Pi Day’s rise to prominence is a testament to the math community’s effort to make the discipline more accessible. Through fun activities such as pie cutting and throwing contests, interactive circle puzzles, and engaging discussions on the circumference and areas of circles, Pi leaps out of the textbooks for one day out of the year and into our everyday lives.

But shouldn’t every day be a celebration of the central role mathematics plays in our lives?

In this Information Age economy, jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are growing at a faster rate than in other sectors. In fact according to the Business Center for a College-and Career-Ready America, almost all of the 30 fastest growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM.

Likewise, employers in all industries are seeking job applicants skilled in analyzing information, collaborating, and problem solving. More than ever, Americans need to realize how important a solid grounding in mathematics is to our Nation’s future.

As a former classroom teacher, I believe the key to making every day Pi Day lies in changing the way students experience math in the classroom. Traditional methods of teaching math, which have largely followed the pattern of lectures and examples followed by repetitive algorithmic-based problems, are no longer working. Students’ interactions with traditional hardcover textbooks, whose practice questions regularly feature improbable scenarios and unrealistic examples, often leave children feeling more disengaged from mathematics than ever.

To change this paradigm and to better engage students in math education, we need to empower our educators with the sustained professional development to change their classroom practice, and provide them new digital resources to engage students in learning.

Evolving instruction is one of the keys to igniting students’ interest in math. We should help educators transition to new modes of teaching that promote student-centered learning. To accomplish this shift, school administrators need to offer all educators professional development and collaboration tools that will help them advance their methods of instruction and meet the needs of today’s learners.

This professional development must be sustained and job-embedded, and should be accompanied by a new generation of collaboration tools that enable educators to connect with each other and develop their own professional learning networks. The interactions occurring in the networks will empower educators to find and share common solutions to common challenges.

Equally important is the need to improve the core instructional materials our teachers are using daily in classrooms across the country. Today’s students are different then those that preceded them in that they are completely at home in today’s media-driven society. According to data from the Common Sense Media, each day some students are consuming nearly 9 hours of content. Educators need to harness students’ familiarity and comfort with media to better engage them in math instruction.

CREDIT piday.orgDigital resources offer great opportunities to truly engage today’s students in math but, so far, educators have not fully tapped into that power. New, digital math curricula and resources now available mirror students’ use of technology outside the classroom and support the development of the 21st Century skills needed for success in college and careers.

Most importantly, these digital math materials are inquiry-based and embedded with interactive lessons, games, and multimedia that bring math to life. If we are really going to make each day a celebration of math’s connection to our everyday lives, we need to provide students with problems that are worth solving. With dynamic digital resources, learning math is no longer a passive activity, but rather, an immersive experience.

With my Pi Day celebrations set, I have already begun to fill in my calendar with a number of other mathematically themed celebrations. Conjugate Pair Theorem Day is on the calendar, as is Binomial Coefficients Day, and Double Angle Identities Day. Inverse Cosine Day and others will be added soon. It is my hope that soon all educators, across the country, have the professional development and digital resources they need to make every day like Pi Day – a celebration of mathematics’ important role in our every day lives!

Justin Karkow is a Senior Director of Education Consultants at Discovery Education. Justin began his career as a classroom teacher in North Carolina and then served as an instructional technology facilitator for the Wake County Schools. He joined Discovery in 2008 to grow Discovery Education’s Discovery Educator Network (DEN), and in his current role, works with school systems around the nation to support their efforts to create modern digital learning environments that support the success of all learners.