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### Teaching Pi

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Date: 03/04/97 at 12:52:22
From: Leneda Laing
Subject: Pi's exact value?

I am teaching my 7th grade students about the value and history of pi.
I was always taught that 22/7 is an approximate value for pi.  But
this is not pi's value (3.141592...).  22/7 is 3.1428571...

How can I teach my students WHERE the 3.141592... comes from and then
let them experiment with it?

They are also interested in the Guinness Book of World Records and the
places that pi has been divided out to and the number of places that
pi has been  memorized to - I just want to tell then how to find this.

Leneda Laing
```

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Date: 03/04/97 at 15:39:09
From: Doctor Daniel
Subject: Re: Pi's exact value?

Hi Leneda,

One important fact you need to remember is that pi is an irrational
number. That means that there exist no two integers a and b such that
a/b = pi. That's why it's so hard in general to compute pi to an
arbitrary number of places.

For example, not only is 22/7 = 3.142857142857142857..., but this is a
very predictable sequence; the 6th, 12th, 18th, etc decimal places are
all 7, and so on.  Pi doesn't have this property, and in fact, it's
not even a predictable sequence like .10110011100011110000..., which,
though not rational, is very easily characterized.

Evaluation of pi has an extremely interesting history; the Egyptians
and Greeks had decent approximations to it (I believe 22/7 and 3.2),
which were actually better than the one used by medieval Europeans, 3.
Back in the 19th century, the Indiana legislature even tried to set
the value of pi (I believe to 3.2).

What is pi?  There are lots of answers to that question; it's the
ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, for starters.
But it also has a much more formal definition that has nothing to do
with circles, let alone geometry, in that it's the value we get by
adding an infinite number of terms in an infinite series, which is
because arctan (1) = pi/4.  (That is, the inverse tangent of 1 is a 45
degree angle, which is pi/4 radians.)

Another fun way of looking at the number pi is that if you throw n
needles, each of which is length 1, at a floor with horizontal stripes
every 1 unit, the ratio of needles which cross a stripe to the total
number of needles will approach 2/pi as you have more and more
needles. This can be a fun classroom experiment.

Usually, pi is approximated by some infinite series method, and it's
almost always the case that it's done by supercomputers; it's sort of
a way of testing to make sure that a given supercomputer is much more
powerful than the previous incarnation, to show that it can compute
very many more digits of pi than the previous one.  This is very
similar to whenever messages come out that a new largest-known prime
has been found; basically, this means that there's a new generation of
supercomputers that is more spiffy than the previous.

These methods may be outside the interest range of your students'
interest; then again they might not.  It's kind of like looking at
1+1/2+1/4+1/8+1/16+ ... and showing that it gets closer and closer
to 2, except that the series that converge to pi are much much slower
at converging and hence more boring.  The needles experiment always
strikes me as more fun.

Good luck,

-Doctor Daniel,  The Math Forum
Check out our web site!  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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Associated Topics:
Middle School Pi

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