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Schools, restaurants, science center celebrate math on 'Pi Day'

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Abbey Baxter, 12, a sixth-grade student at Hillcrest Intermediate School participates in a hula-hoop event celebrating National Pi Day on Thursday, March 14, 2013.

At the sound of a sharp whistle, schoolchildren wiggled their arms and carefully stepped through a hula hoop as they passed it around a human circle, racing to finish the drill without breaking the chain.

If their hands separated, the circle would be broken and pi would be lost, so the Hillcrest Intermediate students held tight, cheering each other on to victory.

From students to hotdog artisans to technical engineers, people across Western Pennsylvania celebrated Pi Day, the unofficial holiday honoring the mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

It is approximately equal to 3.14, but its decimals “continue infinitely without repetition or pattern,” according to PiDay.org, the holiday's official website.

It's appropriately held on March 14, often designated as 314 in dates.

In the gym at Hillcrest Intermediate School, the sixth-grade girls were a little more dainty in their circle, gently passing the hoop to each other. The boys, a little more rambunctious, didn't mind knocking the hoop into each other to get it around the circle faster.

“In their classrooms, we talked about pi and how it's used to find circumference,” said Donna Duncan, a sixth-grade algebra and science teacher in the Norwin School District. “They learn better when they do something rather than have someone talking about pi.”

Students at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, an independent school for girls, also participated in hands-on activities to celebrate Pi Day.

“Mathematics, science, engineering and technology are absolutely crucial parts of our curricula,” said Kitty Julian, school spokeswoman.

In Amy Yam's Algebra II class, students were challenged to use circular objects to calculate pi.

“Within 10 minutes, the students see that, regardless of the size of the circles, the ratio is the same,” Julian said. “That ratio is pi.”

The first Pi Day celebration is widely believed to have occurred in San Francisco in 1988.

Larry Shaw, a physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium, celebrated by marching around one of the building's circular spaces with staff, then ate fruit pie.

The California museum celebrated Pi Day for its 25th year with a Pi Parade and, of course, slices of pie.

In Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center incorporated its Pi Day celebration into its new, monthly age 21-and-up events.

Educators dropped matchsticks on grids to explain pi, while professional card dealers from Rivers Casino explained probability and gave lessons on blackjack, craps and roulette.An executive chef from the Casino was serving specialty pies in the center's Kitchen Theater.“We're a little bit nerdy; why not celebrate one of the most nerdy holidays of the year?” said Zach Weber, an adult educator at the center.

His background is in math, but Weber said it's exciting to see people from different areas celebrate pi.

It's awesome when something as nerdy as Pi Day gets brought up in non-math circles,” he said. “They might not know what it can do, but people know what pi is. Math is cool. It doesn't have to be boring all the time.”

Bakeries and food shops around the region got in on the fun by offering specials for Pi Day.

At Keystone Bakery in Monessen, customers received a free lunch pie with a $15 purchase. Franktuary, a Pittsburgh hotdog shop, celebrated by offering “pi-erogies” for half off and pies for $3.14.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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