Pi (3.14159…) is a numerical constant that is used in many branches of mathematics. The number represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The digits of pi never end, nor do they repeat. This phenomenon has fascinated and intrigued mathematicians for nearly 4000 years.
Here at Harbor Day, we began celebrating Pi Day in the year 2000 to enjoy the patterns and mysteries of this special number. This Friday will mark our 21st Pi Day, and it is always a fun day for students to applaud the fact that math can be more than simply crunching through multiplication and long-division problems.
The contest to memorize pi digits began in 2002. What began as a simple challenge to memorize the first 47 digits of pi to earn a homework pass in my 7th grade math class quickly blossomed into a school-wide craze with students memorizing unheard of numbers of digits, even in the lower grades. Last year we watched 3rd grader Brody Majit recite 2402 digits while his brother Owen in 6th grade recited 3770! Kindergarteners have recited 30 digits, a feat that is difficult even for adults. Try it to see how many digits you can memorize!
Why do our students (and many other people around the globe) memorize pi digits? As Pi King Benjamin Most ‘12 (whose record is 4030 digits!) wrote in his college application essay, “Pi is a beautiful string of numerals, an enigma, and memorizing digits is a Mount Everest to climb”. The president of Stanford University applauded another Pi Queen, Jamie Searles ‘09, at her Freshmen Welcome Rally for being able to recite 2009 digits. The current pi record was set by Karina Grover ‘16 by reciting 4,100 digits! However, for most of our students, just making the effort to memorize digits is a quirky way to have some fun with math. Our students challenge their brains to memorize ever-increasing numbers of digits, and they take deserved pride in their accomplishments. I won’t even say how many (few) digits I can recite because it would be embarrassing, but every year I am amazed and thrilled by the buzz of our students chanting digits in the Harbor Day walkways as they experience the “joy of Pi”.
Even if your child is not memorizing pi digits this year, they (and you) might enjoy these interesting factoids about this special number:
Pi Day celebrations first began in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, and their activities inspired many of our Harbor Day traditions.
Congress officially recognized Pi Day in 2009 to honor the importance of mathematics and STEM in our world.
Zero does not show up in pi until the 32nd digit, although we would expect to find it in the first 10 digits.
Computer manufacturers test the reliability of new computers by having them calculate the digits of pi. The current record for a computer is calculating over 31 trillion digits!
The world record for reciting pi digits is 100,000, accomplished by Akira Haraguchi in 2006. Ironically, he never sent his feat to The Guinness World Records!
Some famous scientists have a special connection to pi. Albert Einstein was born on 3/14 and Steven Hawking died on 3/14.
On the internet, if you google “am I in Pi?”, it will take you to a website where you can find out where your birthday occurs in the never-ending string of pi digits.
Harbor Day’s Math Department wishes a Happy Pi Day to all and hopes that you will always have fun with math!
About the Author:
A member of the faculty since 1996, Mrs. Stockstill teaches algebra and geometry and serves as the Mathematics Department Chair at Harbor Day School. The valedictorian of her high school class, Mrs. Stockstill graduated summa cum laude from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a minor in chemistry, and a mathematics single-subject teaching credential. She continued her education with graduate-level training in mathematics, studying probability and statistics at Drexel University and Villanova University. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Mu Epsilon, and Phi Kappa Phi honorary societies, Mrs. Stockstill was a research analyst for AT&T and a substitute teacher in the public school system before coming to Harbor Day School. Mrs. Stockstill believes that students learn math best when teachers make it fun and show math’s beauty and power. She is delighted to be doing this with the students at Harbor Day School.