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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Local schools pay homage to pi

NASHUA – The ancient Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes has been credited with many findings and inventions. He discovered the reasoning behind why levers are so useful for lifting heavy objects, and invented a “screw” that is still used today to move water into irrigation canals.

His most infamous invention is a so-called death ray, created by using hundreds of mirrors to reflect sunlight on an attacking ship, lighting it on fire. ...

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NASHUA – The ancient Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes has been credited with many findings and inventions. He discovered the reasoning behind why levers are so useful for lifting heavy objects, and invented a “screw” that is still used today to move water into irrigation canals.

His most infamous invention is a so-called death ray, created by using hundreds of mirrors to reflect sunlight on an attacking ship, lighting it on fire.

Still, his most celebrated finding comes in the field of mathematics: He made the first serous approximation of the number Pi, a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, of 3.14159.

In the thousands of years since Archimedes’ calculation, celebrating Pi has turned into a holiday of sorts, recognized on March 14 (that is, 3/14) by mathematicians, students and math nerds everywhere.

On Thursday, schools around the region took part, holding math expos and pie-eating contests, and integrating lessons about the irrational number into all subject areas.

But just what has caused the fascination with the number?

“It’s such a funky number,” said Nashua High School North math teacher Esther Brodeur.

Pi is an irrational number whose digits never settle into a repeating pattern, although it has been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits.

There are varying ideas on this subject, but many in the region agreed: No matter the reason, celebrating Pi Day is an important way to show students that math is applicable to all areas of life, and to boost excitement in the subject.

“It’s one of those things that just kind of has a life of its own,” said Donna Brink, a math teacher at Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High School. “It’s a curious number in so many ways … It confounded the greatest minds of ancient Greece, it’s just a fascinating number of math.”

Pi Day has gained plenty of attention in recent years.

Pi-lovers tried their hand at reciting the never-ending number in You Tube videos and on various social media sites Thursday, while pizza joints and bakeries offered their own deals on “pi”-es.

At Nashua Catholic, students made a paper chain, with different colored loops representing each digit of pi, that was wrapped around the school cafeteria.

In Brink’s classroom, students brought in canned goods and used rulers and ribbons to measure the diameters and circumferences of the objects, seeing how close they could get to Archimedes’ estimation of pi.

In science teacher Sue Mack’s room next door, students were learning about the history of Archimedes’ inventions, and making their own versions of the Archimedes’ screw.

Public schools in Nashua were celebrating Pi Day in their own ways Thursday. Nashua High School North and South held math expos at the schools, featuring projects from math students that illustrated the ways that math can be tied to all areas of life.

“Pi is a fun number,” said Brodeur, who, along with the Math Honor Society, helped organize the expo Thursday. “And so it’s great for promoting math awareness among students. We figure if we did a fun thing to celebrate the day, students may realize that math is all around us.”

North seniors Samantha Greig and Liz Ball were showing fellow students how math is used to design, build and maintain roller coasters.

While many people love riding roller coasters, the students said, few realize just how much it takes to design and build one that will be fun, functional and non-lethal.

“I think people just don’t really think about it, but there would be no roller coasters without math,” Ball said.

“Pi is something that we use for so many years in math, and it’s something that everyone can understand,” she said. “It’s accessible.”

Nashua Catholic’s Brink said that is her goal as well. Too often, she said, students struggle with math and become life-long haters of the subject.

While Pi Day may seem like a silly holiday to some, Brink said she at least hopes it help change the culture of math, and make the subject something that everyone can relate to and get excited about.

“Math seeps into everything, everywhere you go, you really can’t turn your back on it,” she said. “Yet, we would never let a kid say, ‘I can’t read,’ but we do let kids say, ‘I can’t do math.’ That needs to change.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).