Happy Pi Day! (Or, The Power of Tradition)

Last Monday marked one of the most beloved days of our school year, Pi Day (3.14)! It's the day when our students compete to see who can recite the most digits of pi, and then the winners get to smash pie into a randomly-selected teacher's face. (It's not really pie; it's just a pie tin filled with shaving cream.) I managed to avoid being pie'd for four consecutive years before finally succumbing to the Wheel of Pie. This year, I sat out entirely to shoot some footage of the event. You can see the magic of Pi Day for yourself below:

Our school thrives on traditions. Times Table Day, when an antagonist selected by the math department, like the number ninjas, "steal" all the math facts, resulting in a head-to-head multiplication speed competition. The Gobble Wobble, our annual Thanksgiving foot race where the winners take home all of the fixings for their dinners. And Gingerbread House Making, during which zero sheets of gingerbread are actually used. (Bootleg graham cracker houses for the win.) We also need to have a moment of silence for those traditions which have been lost to us over the years -- like Human Dogsled Racing, where at least a dozen students walked away with bumps, bruises, and sprains each year. We shall miss you, Human Dogsled Racing.

Traditions are important in any community -- but especially educational ones. They provide our students with the stability and routine that they need in order to be successful. Students don't just know how each class period will play out; they know the course of the entire academic year. They provide our students with something to look forward to. Everyone at our school, students and staff alike, has their favorite annual event. (Mine used to be Gingerbread House Making but, since I cut down on my sugar consumption, I clearly need to find a new favorite. This year, I narrowly avoided pouring an entire paper plate of M&Ms down my throat.) And they can add a little joy to the most distressing times.

I'm talking, of course, about state testing season.

I don't believe in state testing. We've turned over far too much power to second-rate companies like Pearson that can barely write a competent multiple choice question. (Pineapples, anyone?) We allow these hackneyed exams to determine where our students attend high school, how they're sorted into their core academic courses (honors vs. gen ed), and even if they pass from one grade to another. I believe in portfolio assessments that are completed over the course of an entire year and that take into account the breadth of a student's knowledge, creativity, discipline, and intellect. State tests make me want to slam my head against the nearest wall -- so I can't even imagine how they make our students feel.

Thankfully, our school always chooses to turn test prep season into one of the most celebrated events of the year. Our staff brainstorms a list of potential themes, and then we vote for our favorite. This year's theme is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because there's nothing like dropping a giant nostalgia bomb to cheer up your staff members. (Unfortunately, it also means that I've had to endure students telling me how much they enjoy Michael Bay movies. I'm choosing to approach those as "teachable moments." In this case, teaching them that Michael Bay is the literal worst.) We kicked off test prep season with a video from Shredder telling our students that he's kidnapped the turtles, and they'll never get them back -- unless they can defeat him with the power of KNOWLEDGE. The following day, in each advisory, students find a poster with a grid pattern, like a slice of pizza or the NYC subway system. For the next month, they collect pepperoni stickers from their teachers for showcasing their test-taking skills -- annotating texts, dissecting the prompt, marking close confusers, using process of elimination, etc. -- and stick them on the poster. When they fill up the entire poster with stickers, their class gets a visit from Shredder.

(Our principal in the winning-est costume ever.)

Shredder hems and haws about how the students will never defeat him (while members of the Foot Clan walk around the classroom, throwing textbooks and sweeping worksheets off of desks) before leaving them with a reward for completing their poster and getting one step closer to freeing the turtles. The reward for the first poster? Cardboard turtle masks.

(These are seventh graders. Moral of the story: Cardboard turtle masks are cool at any age.)

The rewards get bigger and better every time students complete a poster -- and, since our state test prep theme is an annual tradition, students know that they have some clutch prizes to look forward to over the next month. They also know that we'll wrap up the entire experience with Testival the day before the ELA state test. There will be playground games and temporary tattoos and sidewalk chalk and freeze pops. And when students compete their final day of testing, they're allowed to take off their uniform shirts and show off the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed T-shirt that they received from the school underneath. It's about as awesome as state testing can possibly get.

So the next time you're confronted with a dismal event that makes you want to stab yourself in the aorta with a wooden pencil (Quality Review?), think about if there's an especially awesome tradition that you can link to it. May I suggest Human Dogsled Racing?

No comments

Back to Top