The Number Pi
Do you know about the number pi?
Aside from being the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet – 𝚷 – it is also a unique number.
If you take the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, no matter how big or small a circle is, this number is the same. That is, dividing any circumference of a circle by its diameter, you’ll still get the same result: pi.
Before we share the number, we need to explain that it’s an irrational number. Its decimals are infinite. They go on forever, though they do not repeat, such as when you get the decimal form of 2/3: 0.66666666…and on to infinity.
Here are the first 100 digits of pi: 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
A Pi Day Tradition
Each year in 6th grade Omega, on March 14, students have a “Pi Day” showdown. Students who want to participate in Pi day spend time memorizing as many digits of Pi (after the number 3) as they can.
Students get up and recite them in front of their classmates. Even if they have memorized hundreds of numbers, the added challenge of doing this in front of peers doesn’t guarantee that a person will be able to flawlessly recite their memorized numbers.
Some students memorized the first two digits (ha!). Some memorized 30 digits, 61 digits, 71 digits, 73 digits, 103 digits, and one student kept going…and going…to 220 digits!
Why Memorize Digits of Pi?
It may seem at first glance that memorizing lots of numbers in rapid succession for “rote memorization” isn’t a great use of time. Besides, why do that when you can just search that number on the web?
You might not know about the real benefits of doing an exercise like this.
First, let’s talk numbers.
In 1981, Rajan Mahadevan (of India) correctly recited 31,811 digits of pi. Eight years later, Hideaki Tomoyori (of Japan) would recite 40,000 digits in competition. In 2005, Lu Chao (of China) broke the world record for correctly reciting 67,890 digits of pi.
But get this. Those folks don’t have extraordinary memorization powers. Oh, no. It’s strategy.
These people simply learned different methods for effectively memorizing large amounts of information. It’s not hard to see how this would translate to the classroom. By learning how to memorize numbers in various ways, students can apply those skills to memorizing other important information, such as historical dates, social security numbers, drivers license numbers, and more.
They also start to understand their own process of learning and what is most effective.
Mind Palace or The Method of Loci
Basically, this method uses location as a way to trigger the memory. Let’s say someone wants to remember 24 digits. Standing in front of the kitchen sink, for example, they would memorize four or five digits. Then they could move toward the window and memorize a few more, and move again to the couch, then to a door, each time memorizing a few more digits of a number.
To recite the numbers, the person then starts again at the kitchen sink, moves toward the window and retraces the path they first took – essentially moving “through the palace” to visualize and remember the numbers.
This method calls for memorizing numbers in smaller chunks. To make it more effective, a person could put them on cards, write them on paper on different lines, or write in names of people and “assign” a chunk of numbers to them.
This is another memorization technique in which numbers have consonant sounds and memory aids.
In fact, there are many ways to do this! The website The Art of Memory has many different techniques of improving memory skills and resources for learning how to memorize large amounts of information.
Here is a fun video on “How to Memorize Pi the Easiest Way Possible” by Memorize Academy:
At the very least, anyone looking up resources to memorize pi naturally gains research skills and cognitive reasoning skills to sift through all the information!
It’s More Than A Friendly Competition
Students who choose to get up and recite these numbers face some challenges. It’s not easy getting up in front of peers. But at Rainbow, teachers and students spend time on developing the “whole child,” and this includes developing those empathy skills that allow students to be supportive of each other as they go up and present in front of the class.
Everyone received an applause, a little hedgehog sticker for participation and support from classmates.
Then They Ate Pi…Er…Pie!
Though Rainbow has a policy on not eating sugar during the day, teachers will make exceptions for special occasions. This was definitely a special occasion: not eating pie on pi day amounts to…mathematical error.
Instead of regular pie, however, Jenny, our 6th grade teacher, got “cookie pie” as it was easier to transport. What would a celebration be without 3.14 candles?
We’re not sure which memorization method students used, but one thing is for sure: students learned about how they learn, and figured out different memorization techniques.