Pi Day is a chance for people from all backgrounds and levels of math ability to celebrate and learn more about a number which has great significance in our lives. But why all this fuss over the number Pi? Imagine it’s 2000 years ago and you’re creating something round, either ball-shaped or disc shaped, and you need to know how much material to get. Knowing Pi accurately would help you avoid buying too much or too little. The effort to calculate Pi more accurately led to great advances in mathematics over the centuries. Today it is known to be important in other areas, such as statistics, where it is in the formula for calculating the bell curve which helps us predict all kinds of events more accurately.
What is Pi Day? Since the number Pi begins with the digits 3.14, it resembles the date 3/14, so March 14th is considered as good a time as any to celebrate and learn more about the number Pi.
Arlington is jumping on the bandwagon with Pi Day celebrations over the next few days. As head coach of Ottoson Middle School’s Math Club, I’ll be helping the students run a number of fun activities in place of our normal Thursday practice of math competition problems. Anyone in the Ottoson community is welcome to come explore the activities after school in the cafeteria on Thursday, March 12th, from 2:30pm-3:45pm. However, Thursday is two days before Pi Day this year, so to make it even more relevant, we’ll be repeating some of the activities on Saturday at the Arlington Education Foundation’s free celebration on Pi Day itself, at Common Ground in Arlington Center from 3pm to 5pm. We’re hoping the entire community will be able to come enjoy some “Pi”.
The Ottoson Math Club is run by volunteer parents and teachers who want to find new ways to show students more fun and interesting sides to math. Pi Day is our first effort at branching out beyond competition math, as an attempt to keep things fresh and varied for the students. We welcome all community members to get involved with us or share ideas on how to keep our Math Club meetings varied, creative and fun while we gain new insights into math.
We started only in December, as simply an effort to give Ottoson students a chance to compete against other schools in the national Mathcounts Competition Series, which Ottoson had not done in previous years. It was late in the year to start, since most schools start weekly practices in September. We held 3 practices where students helped each other figure out sample problems. Then a January in-school Mathcounts competition determined which 10 students would go to the regional competition on Feb 7th. With over 40 students attending the practices regularly, that meant that for 30 of them, the chance for competition seemed to be over after just one month. While we were proud of our 10 students who all scored well at the regional meet, and our official team of 4 who advanced to the state finals on March 7th in Boston, we also wanted to keep the other 30 students engaged.
So we found some other math meets which were open to anyone who wants to sign up, and set our sights on those, while also holding our own mini-competitions at the end of each of our practices. Since early February the first part of each practice has had students working with their friends on past competition problems while adult volunteers give advice. The practice then ends with a “guts round” competition where teams of 3 or 4 children race each other to solve problems, where points are scored both for speed and correctness. Everyone has a lot of fun with it.
Pi Day will be our first attempt to change up the routine for one week. There will be 3 activities for estimation of Pi in interesting ways, such as by tossing toothpicks onto lined paper, or using regular polygons and geometry the way Archimedes did. Another activity will clarify what it means when a number is irrational, by showing how anybody’s birthday can be found in the digits of Pi.
After Pi Day, we’ll compete in a “Purple Comet” online competition March 19th, then practice for the Lexington Math Tournament on Saturday, March 28th before winding down for the school year in mid-April. In the fall, we plan to enter the Continental Math League’s monthly meets, help students prepare for the AMC 8 contest in November, and help them prepare creative math videos for the Mathcounts Video Challenge. We want to thank Arlington’s Math Department for their support of these plans, making it easy for us to focus on the math.