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What’s the Purpose of Celebrating National Pi Day in Today’s World?

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In the United States, National Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (the third month and the 14th day or 3/14). Pi (represented by the Greek letter “π”) is a mathematical ratio commonly rendered as 3.14, although its numbering can go on to infinity. The Pi ratio is used to measure any circle’s circumference (the distance around the circle) to its diameter (the distance across the center of the circle).

But outside the classroom, does Pi have any practicality in today’s world?

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As Scientific America explains, “Pi is most commonly used in certain computations regarding circles. Pi not only relates circumference and diameter. Amazingly, it also connects the diameter or radius of a circle with the area of that circle by the formula: the area is equal to pi times the radius squared. Additionally, pi shows up often unexpectedly in many mathematical situations.”

Pi is a constant ratio, meaning it applies to all spheres regardless of their size. Pi’s actual number is infinite, spanning over 50 trillion digits. Since the actual calculation is well beyond 3.14159, it is truncated to 3.14. That’s why there’s a celebration on March 14.

Pi Predates Many Commonly Known Mathematical Computations

The concept of Pi isn’t new. In fact, it predates many commonly known mathematical computations. The first reference to Pi was in 1650 BC. There’s also a Pi reference in the Bible as well as when the Greek mathematician Archimedes calculated Pi as 22/7 in 287 BC.

National Pi Day started in the United States in 1988 and is often celebrated by eating pie since Pi and pie are homophones. In addition, there are Pi Day contests in which people while walking in circles recite the integer, in some cases to 200+ digits after the period.

Like Pi, STEAM Depends on Math

Pi is not just a mathematical formula; it’s a great way to celebrate the importance of mathematics in our world. Math is more than formulas, functions and calculations.

Theories, laws, scenarios and algorithms all have their origins in mathematics. While it may come last in the sequence, each aspect of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) relies on math, so in actuality math is the foundation of STEAM. For example:

  1. Scientists use math for measurements, observations, data analysis, calculations and reporting results. 
  2. Engineers measure, build, and create using finite measurements and calculations.
  3. Technologists need to know how to move data around in a secure manner while providing public access.
  4. Artists use words, notes and language, which are all mathematically based.

Mathematics Is Essential in Many Careers

While math is highly theoretical, there are several careers that heavily rely on mathematical principles and concepts. As a career, math is highly respected and sought after.

Teaching and research are two common careers in the math field. Math-related careers that are gaining traction in the workplace include actuaries, logisticians, statisticians, accountants, cryptologists, day traders and economists.

Math develops skills at a foundational level, enhances problem solving and creates a logical application. These thinking skills are transferable and are beneficial in the marketplace.

Celebrating National Pi Day in the Classroom

National Pi Day is a great opportunity to explain the importance of math-related careers to schoolchildren using fun, everyday activities. Here’s a few suggestions I developed to infuse Pi into the classroom:

  1. Pre-K: How many circles can you identify in your room? Name them all.
  2. Elementary: Identify five foods that are shaped like a circle.
  3. Middle School: Traffic circles allow vehicles to travel counterclockwise around a circular center island. Using a map, identify all of the traffic circles in a nearby city.
  4. High School: Using geometry, identify all of the angles you can create using one circle.

So Pi is more than just circles, numbers and ratios. It’s a great, practical way to explain and make use of the M in STEAM for both youth and adults.

What’s your favorite kind of pie to enjoy on March 14?

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, CLTD, PMP, is a professor in the School of Business and has nearly 30 years of experience managing projects that specialize in project management and supply chain management. A global speaker and STEM advocate, she obtained a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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