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Putting Pi (π) Into Perspective, With Pie

By Chris Richards  (Fun video included, keep reading)

Few puns are as delicious as Pi Day.

At Seeds of Literacy, March 14 (perhaps better written as 3/14) is a special day, and not just because it’s Albert Einstein’s birthday.

Seeds of Literacy’s students are all adults.  Many have been out of school for decades.  Yet they happily engaged with a day celebrating a mathematical constant that, if we’re being honest, few people consciously use in their everyday lives.

What Is Pi?

For those who are unfamiliar, or who have blocked out that traumatic high school geometry class from their memory, Pi is a mathematical constant.  The number Pi (π) technically goes on forever, but it’s usually shortened to 3.14 (thus making the day 3/14 Pi Day!).  Pi describes the relationship between the diameter of a circle and its outer edge, the circumference.  This simple ratio is one of the most important tools in math, used in engineering, art, architecture, and physics.  It also sounds suspiciously like the word “pie.”

Let’s face it. Math isn’t the most popular subject in school.  Actually, it’s the one subject that people feel comfortable not only admitting their ignorance, but almost brag about it.  Few people will happily tell you “I’m not a word person,” or “I hate reading!”  But people say these things —and worse— about math all the time.

However, math is a vital part of any education.  Students at Seeds recognize that because they’ve experienced life without these skills.  They’ve learned how valuable this knowledge really is.  This is why, on a typical day, 25 to 35 students will (sometimes begrudgingly) come to Seeds to learn about fractions, percentages, and probability (not to mention geometry and algebra).

Bringing Pi to Life (by adding an E)

Still, for most, math is…well…it’s not exciting.  Pi Day is our chance to turn that on its head.

It might seem like a simple thing, but the way to a person’s heart really is through their stomach.  As students streamed in the door, many proudly carrying their baked confections, staff members brought out tape measures to examine the pastry.  Using a fresh pie, one can see Pi in their everyday life.

It wasn’t long before students were measuring the circular tables they sit at every day.  Others measured their water bottles, their coffee cups, and thermoses.  One student even measured our fan!

There were other activities, too.  Halfway through class, each student received a piece of paper with a number written on it.  To help burn off some of the calories that come along with pie, the staff asked students to get out of their chairs and arrange themselves in the order of Pi.

What followed was a snaking line of students and tutors that ran the entire length of the classroom.  The size of the number was visible to everyone.  Students laughed at how long the number was.  When the activity complete, some went right for their seats.  Others went to grab some more pie.

All around the classroom, the day felt lighter. A little treat in the middle of the week lifted people’s spirits.

“I got 3.15!” one student exclaimed.  “Is that it?” She’d measured the plate beneath her slices of pie, the tape measure still balanced on its side. “Close enough for me,” her teacher said.

Though she was technically just the tiniest bit off, she wore a grin across her face.  Math and measurement became something fun.  At the end of the class, people walked out of the room with full bellies and plates of pie, some to take home, some to eat on the elevator ride down.

In the afternoon, the whole process repeated.  This time, a tutor baked an apple pie with the Greek symbol cooked onto the top of the crust, and folks coming to class after lunch were a little more anxious for sweets, and so some pies went unmeasured.  But just like the morning, once one pie was examined students started grabbing the tape measures for themselves.

“It’s true for every pie!” one said, comparing a small pie to a larger one, “Every single one!”

For these students, the fact that Pi is a “constant” suddenly made a lot more sense.  At Seeds of Literacy, March 14 turned out to be educational, fun, flakey, and delicious. If only every day could be Pi Day…


About the Writer

Chris Richards has been a site coordinator at Seeds of Literacy since 2007, upon his graduation from Hiram College with a Bachelor of Art degree. He has a dual concentration in Integrated Social Studies and a full History degree. He’s a nationally certified tutor trainer and a leader in the Literacy Learning Network. He’s an enthusiast of many things, including Pi (and pie).