Celebrating Pi Day!

A day to celebrate math and encourage youth in the areas of math and science.

No, that is not a typo – I am not talking about a day to celebrate apple, cherry, and chocolate pies, although that would be delicious! Instead, I’m talking about celebrating pi – as in the mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.   Better known in its decimal form, 3.14, pi is one of the most esteemed mathematical constants in the world.  Pi was originally thought to be used by the Babylonians over 3,000 years ago, and while I’m sure they thought the math constant was helpful, it didn’t have its own day of celebration until 1988.  Since then, millions of individuals (mostly math lovers) have celebrated the day both live and virtually through various games and activities.  

While March 14th (as in 3.14) isn’t known as a festive day to most, I do think the notion of celebrating math has merit.  As the 2013 Fall Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) results indicated, less than 35 percent of 8th graders tested in Michigan are considered “proficient” in mathematics.  Math is a critical subject that impacts a key number of jobs and industries.  America’s youth are testing below that of other countries, which could have critical economic consequences down the road.  

That is one of the reasons youth organizations like Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development have stepped up to expose youth to fun, hands-on programs that encourage math exploration in areas that relate.  The subject of math itself seems boring to some, but math can be taught in a fun and hands-on way.

Here is one example – the definition of pi above can seem intimidating, however, the concept of pi can be taught to younger children using this fun activity courtesy of the Exploratorium. Begin by choosing several circular objects of varying sizes; a lid or bowl, a toy tractor wheel, even a full homemade apple pie, and start exploring.   

The activity:

Carefully wrap string around the circumference of your circular object. Cut the string when it is exactly the same length as the circumference. Now take your “string circumference” and stretch it across the diameter of your circular object. Cut as many “string diameters” from your “string circumference” as you can. How many diameters could you cut? Compare your data with that of others. What do you notice?”

What happened:

This is a hands-on way to divide a circle’s circumference by its diameter. No matter what circle you use, you’ll be able to cut three complete diameters and have a small bit of string left over. Estimate what fraction of the diameter this small piece could be (about 1/7). You have “cut pi,” about three and 1/7 pieces of string, by determining how many diameters can be cut from the circumference. Tape the 3 + pieces of string onto paper and explain their significance.

- Adapted from Exploratorium

This simple activity can be done at home, school, or in your 4-H club, and is a creative way to explain pi to youth and adults.  Whether you chose to run 3.14 miles or eat 3.14 pieces of pie to celebrate pi on March 14th, remember to take a moment to encourage a young person in math and science.  To learn about other fun ways to celebrate Pi Day, view this wikiHow article.  To learn more about 4-H opportunities near you, visit http://4h.msue.msu.edu/

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