Pi Day in the Middle School

Noelle Buehrer, Author

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Pi day: some people love it, some hate it, and some use it as an excuse to eat an entire pie! Whichever kind of person you are, if you’ve spent a year in the middle school at SJP, you know about the importance of Pi Day in the middle school. Mr. Larson has conducted a pi memorization challenge for the past seven years, and it has become very popular in the middle school. Students have every day in March leading up to Pi Day to memorize as many digits of pi as they can. 20 digits will earn an oatmeal cream pie and 100 will earn a spot on the pi board. The challenge has led students to find creative ways to memorize pi. A specific technique that has proven to be useful is using an app called Pi – The Game; this app has been used by several high-scoring students (including myself).

I spoke with Mr. Larson about his challenge and he had a lot to say about it. According to him, scores this year were about average compared to other years. But still, no one has managed to beat Amelia Broman’s 700 digits. Of course, her unbelievably high score does a good job of motivating other middle schoolers to try to beat her. Larson also said that he hopes memorizing pi can help kids understand how big infinity is (because pi is an infinite number), but also teach kids how to compress a problem to make it simpler. Memorizing hundreds of digits of pi at once is impossible, but breaking it up into sections is easier. To quote Larson directly, “That which looks impossible is possible.” He added that the challenge helps with memorizing in general.

I also got a chance to speak with Libby Pfannenstein, the highest scoring competitor for two years in a row. I asked her what motivated her to memorize over 200 digits of pi, and she told me she’s always been good at memorizing numbers, so she thought she’d do her best to get as many digits as possible. She also said she is proud of herself for getting the high score this year, even though it is 70 digits short of her score last year. She knows she could have done better if she tried harder and dedicated more time to memorizing. I asked how she felt about this being her last year to compete and whether or not she hoped she would keep her second place spot on the pi board. She answered that she is sad it’s her last year to recite pi, but she’ll finally have time to do other things in her free time besides practice pi. As for her hopes for the future of Pi Day, Pfannenstein said she hopes future middle schoolers will be just as motivated as her to memorize pi. She says it feels cool to see your name and score on the pi board, and she wants other middle schoolers to enjoy that feeling as well.

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