Heidelberg math students cook up a storm to celebrate day of pi(e)
Stars and Stripes March 16, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Divide a pie’s circumference by its diameter and you get a predictable answer: roughly 3.14, or pi.
The answer is always pi regardless of the pie’s size. It’s a fundamental mathematical constant, true of any circle or circular baked confection.
Though only tangentially about math, adding pie to pi results in a similarly predictable outcome, as the students of Tom Zonfrillo’s math students will tell you: Understanding.
On Friday, Zonfrillo’s sixth period classroom at Heidelberg High School looked as much like an amateur baking contest as it did a math class.
Students armed with rulers, pencils and paper measured pies, cookies, cakes and other baked goods with precision and then took to the task of calculating the surface area of their comestibles.
“Mine turned out to be 389.16 (square centimeters) each because I made two pies,” said Samantha Wiegand, a 15-year-old sophomore.
Done with the math, she turned her attention to her next task: drawing an artistic rendering of pi.
For the last five years, Zonfrillo has included pi celebrations in his math curriculum as a means of getting his students to think about math in terms of everyday life.
“Most people at first impression will say, ‘I don’t like math. I can’t do math,’” Zonfrillo said.
While they might not like it, they can do it, he said. But, he admitted, the step-by-step process of learning math can be tedious.
So Zonfrillo makes digesting the subject easier by integrating it with things his students enjoy outside of math class, such as food, art, history and rap.
“It helps. It makes it stick to your brain,” said Golsum Hashimi, a 15-year-old sophomore who baked a circular brownie frosted with a white pi symbol.
“All my other math classes, usually you take it and you forget everything. His math class, everything you do you’ll remember it.”
She pointed to hand-painted dodecahedrons — 12-sided polyhedrons — created for an earlier lesson as further evidence of Zonfrillo’s willingness to stray from the textbook to help his students process math using subjects they might enjoy more.
Zonfrillo’s students have fully embraced Pi Day, a geeky, internationally recognized — though informal — holiday celebrated on March 14 (written numerically the date is 3/14, which shares the numbers of an estimation of pi).
Students like sophomore Dallas Bruenderman, 15, a soccer player who isn’t all that fond of math, was nonetheless able to rattle off the equation for calculating the volume of a soccer ball. She liked Pi Day, she said, “because you’re eating and learning at the same time.”
She was, however, worried about the calories because she had a team pasta dinner to attend before a game Saturday. But the anticipated sugar high wasn’t a concern for her — although it could be for Zonfrillo.
“They do get hyper,” he said of his students. “I feel bad for the seventh-period teachers.”