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National Pi Day/International Day of Mathematics 2024

March 14, 2024


“I’m never going to use this.” According to Laura Kornish, a Professor at the Leeds School of Business, “This statement is the battle cry of the reluctant student. It’s hard to argue with this objection because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”[1] She adds, “The problem with the claim is that we never know what we are going to use.” During secondary school years, mathematics may be the subject at which the “I’m-never-going-to-use-this” statement is most directed. The truth of the matter is that our lives would be much more difficult and our understanding of the world much less complete were it not for mathematics. The staff at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering notes, “Applied mathematics involves the application of mathematics to problems which arise in various areas, e.g., science, engineering or other diverse areas, and/or the development of new or improved methods to meet the challenges of new problems.”[2] And one of the most useful numbers found in the field of mathematics is the constant Pi (π). In fact, journalist Brett Molina insists, “Pi [is] one of the most important numbers ever, representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.”[3] He adds, “Although Pi is typically rounded down to 3.14, it can go on forever. According to Guinness World Records, the most accurate value for Pi is more than 62 trillion digits (62,831,853,071,796 to be precise). It was calculated [in August 2021] by the University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland.” May 14th is designated National Pi Day because the date can be expressed as 3.14 (the rounded representation of Pi).


National Pi Day/International Day of Mathematics


Historian Brynn Holland reports, “Founded in 1988 by physicist Larry Shaw, March 14 was selected because the numerical date (3.14) represents the first three digits of Pi, and it also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday.”[4] She adds, “It wasn’t until 2009, however, that it became an official national holiday when the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation.” Wikipedia explains why Pi is such an important number: “Because π is closely related to the circle, it is found in many formulae from the fields of geometry and trigonometry, particularly those concerning circles, spheres, or ellipses. Other branches of science, such as statistics, physics, Fourier analysis, and number theory, also include π in some of their important formulae.” PiDay.org notes, “Pi exists in many mathematical and scientific applications. Technological advancements over the last 60 years or so will allow us to explore the famous number even more deeply than ever before! If you’re interested in learning more about pi, there’s no better time to see what’s out there. Have fun!” Wikipedia also notes, “In Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact it is suggested that the creator of the universe buried a message deep within the digits of π.” Let me know if you find it.


In November 2019, a decade after the House of Representatives voted to celebrate National Pi Day, UNESCO’s 40th General Conference designated May 14th as the International Day of Mathematics. The reason they didn’t designate it International Pi Day is because many countries place the day before the month when they write dates. In those countries, Pi Day is often celebrated on the 22nd of July (22/7) because 22 divided by 7 is an approximation of Pi. According the official International Day of Mathematics website, “The International Day of Mathematics (IDM) is a worldwide celebration. Each year on March 14 all countries will be invited to participate through activities for both students and the general public in schools, museums, libraries and other spaces. March 14 was chosen as the date for the IDM because it was already celebrated in many countries as Pi Day, based on the fact that some countries write it as 3/14 and the mathematical constant Pi is approximately 3.14. The International Day of Mathematics project is led by the International Mathematical Union with the support of numerous international and regional organizations from all over the world.” This year’s theme is “Playing with Math.”


That theme could easily be applied to Pi Day celebrations. PiDay.org offers ten suggested ways students can play with Pi on this day of celebration. They are:


1. Eat pi foods — like pie, pizza, and pineapple.
2. Bake some pies
3. Pi Day workout — burn off pie calories with 3 jumping jacks, 1 squat jump, and 4 pushups.
4. Hold a Pi Day scavenger hunt
5. Form a group human pi symbol and take a selfie
6. Host pi contests — a relay race requiring students to answer a piece of Pi trivia before passing the baton.
7. Sponsor a Pi Day run — be sure that the run is 3.14 miles or 3.14 kilometers.
8. Read Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi — the perfect book for a Pi Day read-aloud about math for young students
9. Pi Day Paper Chains — create a Pi Day chain using loops of construction paper; make sure to use different colored paper for each of the ten digits, and each will represent either a decimal place or a digit.
10. Create pi-related artwork


Concluding Thoughts


If you really want to make an impact on a young person’s life, demonstrate how pi plays a meaningful role in their everyday lives. Every tire, wheel, and cog in their life has been created using pi. In his book entitled Nature and History of Pi, the late William L. Schaaf, a former Professor at Brooklyn College, wrote, “Probably no symbol in mathematics has evoked as much mystery, romanticism, misconception and human interest as the number pi.” Motivating a young person to get interested in math will help them succeed in today’s technological world. By showing them how math is applied in everyday life, you can prevent them from saying, “I’m never going to use this.”


[1] Laura Kornish, “I’m Never Going to Use This,” laurakornish.com, 13 June 2026.
[2] Staff, “What is Applied Mathematics?” Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.
[3] Brett Molina, “What is Pi Day? Why mathematicians and bakers unite to celebrate,” USA Today, 14 March 2022.

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