Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Pi Day

[Below is State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s newspaper column for March 16, 2012.]

An assistant state superintendent greeted me with “happy Pi Day” this week. It made me smile. I like pie as much as anyone (and think it’s a wonderful coincidence that pie is circular), but I love Pi for a completely different reason.

Pi – the Greek letter that symbolizes the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – excites the math enthusiast in me.

At the State Department of Education our focus is to increase awareness of the need for a more intensive focus on math education in schools as we work to prepare students for the demands of college and careers in the 21st Century.

Over the next 6 years, 65% of all new jobs coming to the state of Oklahoma will require as minimum competency for entry-level positions, the mastery of Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, and Data Analysis and Technical Reading skills.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and two colleagues recently conducted a study that ranked American states and foreign countries side by side based on the percentage of students performing at the advanced level in math proficiency. Obviously, the students scoring highest are the most likely to get the best jobs in the future.

Oklahoma was near the bottom of the list alongside countries such as Uruguay, Bulgaria and Serbia.

We have some work to do, but I’m confident that as we hone our focus on math instruction, our students will begin to excel in this necessary discipline.

So how does all this relate to Pi?

Pi is interesting. It’s an irrational number meaning that the digits after the decimal point never end and never repeat. The most common approximation of Pi is 3.14, which is why March 14 is considered Pi Day. And Pi Day allows us all to have some fun with math – never a bad way to get students to learn.

I read this week how students all across the state celebrated Pi Day. Students at Ardmore High School, for instance, held a pie-eating contest and got to throw pies at their teachers. Oh what educators will do to teach a lesson!

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