by Helen Xia, CHS Student Writer
Pi Day is an annual celebration of pi (π) that takes place on March 14. It’s a relatively new holiday, recognized as a national holiday in 2009. This notorious math symbol represents the ratio of any circle to that same circle’s diameter, which is approximately 3.14–why Pi Day is on March 14! This number, however, has no known end, so it’s an irrational number that continues forever, randomly. In fact, last year, Google Cloud broke the record for calculating the most digits of pi with 100 trillion digits.
Pi, sometimes referred to as “the most important number of the universe,” can be observed in all things involving curvature, rotation, or even matters with no obvious pattern. It’s a number that elegantly links the natural world together, regulating what seems to be beyond our control. For instance, it’s a number indispensable in engineering, since it deals closely with arcs, pillars, and other structures associated with diameter and circumference. Those who work in computer science may test the efficiency of a program by seeing how quickly it can calculate the endless number sequence of pi. Scientists working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) utilize this number to calculate the distance between stars via spherical trigonometry. The perimeter of The Great Pyramid of Giza—constructed about 4,500 years ago—divided by its height equates to 2π. That is only scratching the surface of the wonders of pi, and how a mysterious number could be behind so many of life’s processes.
While pi is relevant to a plethora of topics, you probably learned about it in your mathematics class. Math is the logical science of relative quantity, order, change, and relationships, which are all amalgamated to efficiently track, answer, and rationalize questions. Math’s reputation is often tarnished with labels such as “boring,” “tedious,” or “irrelevant,” but it deals directly with how different components of life—including you and me—interact with each other, so it’s far from irrelevant. However, “boring” and “tedious” are sometimes true—only sometimes, though. It’s also not as disliked as some may think; according to Gallup, 23 percent of teenagers in the United States name math as their favorite class in school, followed by science and social studies.
Math is dull for some, but for others, it’s a thrill to make sense of the world, so much so, that they make a career out of their love for this subject. In class, my teachers teach cheerfully and passionately, and I wanted to see how they—teachers of all subjects—personally view the beauty behind what they teach every day.
A common theme amongst the math teachers was that math satiated their mental hunger, similar to puzzles and riddles. “I love math because it is like a puzzle. I love all sorts of puzzles and, to me, math is just another type of puzzle to figure out,” my past math teacher explained.
“The cool feeling that comes when you get a solution that makes sense is a great [one].” Another teacher expounded upon the puzzle analogy, stating how “Sometimes, it’s very clear which pieces fit together and what your next step or steps may be. Other times, everything can be scattered, and it takes a lot of experimenting to figure out which pieces go where and how they all fit together. I love the feeling of solving something extremely complicated.”
Comparably, the quest for understanding holds true with teachers of all specializations. “As a life-long seeker of knowledge, I am very interested in English and math, but my love of reading from an early age has always made English more appealing to me, overall, than math,” my English professor responded. He had a very unique take on his aforementioned appreciation for math. “However, I have always loved music, and I notice and respect the mathematical foundation of music, which is very interesting and relevant. For example, the classic Pink Floyd song ‘Mother’ features a compelling, complex, interesting blend of time signatures, and this presented a challenge for the regular Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason, who ceded his percussion duties to session drummer Nick Porcaro. I am also very interested in numbers and statistics, as they relate to sports and literature; for example, the numerical precision of iambic pentameter. But English always wins, for me, compared to math, probably due to the power of stories that is inherent in English and history.”
The power hidden between the lines of literary works was echoed by another past teacher of mine, who replied, “I can learn something new every time I re-read a novel or have a discussion with students about a character, scene, etc. My perspective always changes, and I learn new things about the novel and myself.”
Interestingly, the science teachers I questioned both mentioned math in their answers–which makes sense, since “Science boils down to math applied to solve problems, model processes, or provide evidence,” as my biology teacher defined it. “I think one of the most important questions a teacher needs to be able to answer is ‘Why am I learning this?’ One of the big problems for students learning math, especially anything after algebra I or geometry, is that the material is too far removed from its application. Math seems too abstract to be of much use… If a student doesn’t pay attention in statistics or calculus, then biology, chemistry, and physics will never bloom into their full beauty.”
Similarly, my environmental science teacher described math and science as going “hand in hand.” She went on to say, “I love science. However, to me, science is something we can experience hands-on in our everyday lives, from what we eat to just walking outside. Science is in everything we do!” This may be combated by another math teacher, who explained, “Mathematics is used in some way in every person’s daily life. It may not be as explicit as solving equations or creating graphs, but mathematical modeling is a process that is used every day by everyone. Such data and observations provide statistics we can use to improve our community, well-being, and overall lives.”
An interesting question to ponder is whether math is invented or discovered. Some argue that math is, like any set of rules, manmade, and therefore invented. Others, on the other hand, claim that mathematics exists independently of humans and would have existed with or without us, making it a discovery and not something we created ourselves. What do you think? Philosophical questions like these may be difficult to answer, but they are excellent food for thought. Speaking of food, I think my pie is almost finished… (Not pi, because pi, an infinite number, is never finished!)