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Inquiry in mathematics

This article focuses on how a fundamental mathematics concept can be learned in an enjoyable manner, through the celebration of Pi Day, thus, reinforcing the conceptual understanding and making real life connections.

Grade 5 students were inquiring into the central idea: “Our global culture today is built from the contributions of past civilisations” under the transdisciplinary theme “where we are in place and time”. As they were exploring the line of inquiry, “ways in which aspects of the past civilisations are relevant today”, they found that one of the most significant contributions is that of mathematics. Mathematics has a rich history that cannot be overlooked. In geometry, students had just concluded learning about the area and perimeter of squares and rectangles and were curious to know about circular objects. A question that arose was, what makes a circle a circle? This set off an exciting inquiry called “The Infinite Life of Pi” which beautifully integrated as a past contribution of mathematics into the unit of inquiry being investigated.

We began with a quick recall on the characteristics of a circle. This prior knowledge led the students to measure circumference and diameter of various circles with ease. Groups were formed and they went around the classroom discovering circular objects. From water bottles to lids, not even the dustbin in the corner of the classroom was spared. Once we followed up on the techniques used in measuring, the students set out to measure circles around the school campus.

The school’s sprawling campus provided the perfect environment for students to take their inquiry outside the walls of a classroom. The circles within the basketball court and the large circular tables in the dining area were challenging to measure. But that did not deter their enthusiasm and curiosity?


The next task was to figure out which operation gives a constant when performed on the circumference and diameter. Though the students were a little confused initially, a group was quick to understand that on dividing the circumference by the diameter, a constant was arrived at, the value of which remained “constant” for circles of varying diameter. Once that was done to all the circles, they discovered that the ratio is almost the same in all circles.

An introduction to the mathematical constant Pi (π) created a buzz among the students wherein the students’ sense of achievement of having discovered it on their own was palpable.

The next day being 14 March (3.14), the International Pi Day was celebrated in class. To mark this day, various activities, both student-led and teacher facilitated were conducted. The morning was made cheerful with the circle song. They also had a rapid fire vocabulary game to list as many words as they can that begin with Pi. This was followed by a read aloud of the book Sir Cumference and the dragon of pi (1999) where a boy named Radius saves his dad, Sir Cumference, through a potion that equals the value of Pi.

The highlight of the day was a Pizza Session. Before the children dug into it, they once again, in groups, measured the circumference and diameter of each pizza. The group closest to the value of Pi was awarded an extra pizza!


Using strategies that make real life connections demonstrates that mathematical concepts can make a meaningful and memorable experience through greater student engagement. A variety of skills and strategies were used to unravel the “infinite Life of Pi”. Students proudly displayed their findings of discovering Pi and their reflections on celebrating Pi day on a school bulletin board, thereby, sharing their learning with the community.



Neushwander, C. 1999. Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi: A Math Adventure. MA: Charlesbridge. Watertown,
Circle song:


Flona Tauro is currently a grade 5 homeroom teacher at Singapore International School, Mumbai. She has been teaching for twelve years, six out of which as a PYP practitioner. She believes in creating learning experiences in which her learners can make real life connections and also enjoy the process. She wants her students to grow and develop in their use of the transdisciplinary skills; applying them to become confident, independent and concerned citizens of the world. You can follow her on Twitter @flona_tauro.