Apple Pi in My Eye
Posted in Blog on January 23, 2012 by Molly Loeb
Apple pi in my eye
Written by: Ted Wohlfarth
Kids love to correct adults. A group of middle school students gleefully told me I was wrong when I said the number pi = 3.1416. And I was impressed that they could recite the value of pi to 7 decimal places.
The value of pi came up because we were comparing laws of math to other abstract concepts and laws. The students had made comparison charts and were discussing similarities and differences.
Out of the blue, one of the students asked how anybody came up with the value of pi in the first place. We happened to be sitting at a round table. I asked them how they could find pi using this table and a measuring tape. They did not know.
I asked questions about how to reason through the problem. Even though we had tape measures and they knew the value of pi, they did not know how to begin. I gave them broad hints about how to explore the question. Gradually it came apparent that they had memorized facts about pi and circles but they had not grasped how to use the facts.
The experience reminded me that kids need to engage with ideas and play with them if they are going to master them. This raises the question of educational strategies and teaching methods.
What would happen if school was structured as a series of projects and teams of students worked on the projects collaboratively? Would students be able to use the facts they memorize to find solutions and answer questions?
Suppose students were given a list of questions and told that as soon as they knew the answers to the questions they could move into the next grade level in that subject. How might students respond?
How would the school cope with students who were advancing rapidly in some areas and lagging in other areas?
I hope that you will explore these questions with several people who are thinking about ways to restructure classroom education.
Ted Wohlfarth, Executive Director
ENTEAM ORGANIZATION -- Learning to Win Together
5400 Arsenal Street, St. Louis, MO 63139