SCHOOLS

If Only the Party Could Go On Forever: On 3/14, Students Revel in the Wonders of Pi

Excitement builds for students at Keene Mill Elementary School as the clock counts up to 1:59:26, which contains the fourth through eighth numbers of pi.
Excitement builds for students at Keene Mill Elementary School as the clock counts up to 1:59:26, which contains the fourth through eighth numbers of pi. (Photos By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eleven-year-old Tania Gandarillas walked to the microphone and clasped her hands. The numbers that had been racing through her head for days began to spill out.

"3.14159," she said. "265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640."

Tania rattled off 72 digits of the world's most famous mathematical constant, earning her second place in the pi memorization contest at Keene Mill Elementary School in Fairfax County. Those hours spent memorizing won her glory and a "Got Pi?" refrigerator magnet.

There's no Hallmark card yet. But as any math geek will tell you, yesterday was a day to party -- Pi Day. (For the number-challenged, the date was 3/14.)

The never-ending, never-repeating number was celebrated in schools nationwide. Keene Mill students recited poems they wrote about pi and played math games. A Prince George's County geometry class practiced calculating the area of circles and sang pi songs. Some of Harvard University's brightest minds held a pie-eating contest.

Pi, represented by the familiar Greek letter, is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew that the value of pi was a little more than 3. Mathematicians have worked since then to determine a more precise value, and computers have calculated pi to more than a trillion digits.

"It's pretty cool because it goes on forever," said David Malinowski, 11, who is able through daily practice to recite 51 digits. "You can just keep going on and on."

The origin of Pi Day is murky, but math teachers nationwide have embraced the idea for years as a way to make math fun. At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's, math teacher Christina Kim planned to wear a homemade pi T-shirt yesterday, and her students volunteered to bring in round snacks. Keene Mill teacher Kristin Rever had students make a paper chain, with each link representing one digit of pi. They made about a thousand links.

"Pi is a really tough concept for elementary school," Rever said. "This helps kids to understand the enormity of the number."

Students at Keene Mill, in the Springfield area, have learned a few things about pi. But some are still discovering the relationship between pi and circles.

"It tastes good," teased Rebecca Bates, 11, who played a circle game with classmates.

"It's a magic number," said Robin Nguyen, 11. "Every time you do something to a circle, you get pi?"


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