MathVids Original

The Story of Pi (Chain)

02.28.09 | Comment?

March 14, 2008 at 6:30am (National pi day)
The Front Gym at Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio

The suspects:
Ryan Andersen and Katie Kinnie
Math teachers at Central Catholic High School

1,200 high school students that have not yet begun flocking into the school

The mission:
Create the longest pi chain on record (with the official rankings being taken from Teach Pi).  The previous record was 31,415 set by Pontiac Junior High in Poniac, Illinois in 2007. Katie and I were not content to simply beat that record; we wanted to crush it and create a 66,000-link chain.

The setup / the numbers:
In the weeks leading up to this historic day, Katie and I spent nearly 20 hours each cutting 10 colors of construction paper into strips (each color representing a different digit 0-9), assembling them into neat packages, and delivering them to classrooms around their school.  After all of the cutting, we had nearly 70,000 strips of construction paper (7,000 of each color).  We also obtained more than 150 staplers, 70,000 staples, and 35 teachers volunteering their classes to help throughout the day.

Each class was split up into groups of 4 or 5 people.  Each group was responsible for making a predetermined chain of 100 links (representing a string of 100 digits somewhere in the sequence of pi) that had been passed out to the teacher prior to March 14, and each person in each group had a responsibility.  They are as follows:

Job #1 (Reader): Read one digit at a time (quietly) to the grabber.  As you read the digits off, cross out the digit with a pencil or a highlighter.

Job #2 (Grabber): Grab the slip of paper that corresponds to the digit read by the reader.

Job #3 (Linker): Take the slip of paper and wrap it around the previous link.

Job #4 (Stapler): Staple the link making sure that it is secure.  If staples are out, refill the stapler or use tape.

Job #5 (Supervisor – only used if there is an odd number of people): Make sure everything is going correctly.  Check to make sure the reader is reading digits in the correct order and is crossing off the digits.  Make sure the grabber is taking the correct colored strips, and make sure every link is being securely fastened.  Finally, you are in charge of refills of staples / tape.

In all, 660 groups were needed to complete the 66,000-link chain.  Once each group had completed their chain of 100 digits, they numbered their chain (this was also predetermined to keep order and make for easier connecting in the end) and carried their chain down to the front gym.  It was here that student and teacher helpers were frantically connecting the chains in order (the first hundred to the second hundred, and so on).

The activity:
As Katie and I walked into the front gym on that fateful Friday morning, the setup and preparations were complete.  We set up tables in the gym and readied the slips of paper and tables for our students as well as getting the stage area ready for the groups that were to come all day bearing chains of 100 links.

All throughout the day, from the students that showed up to school early by 7:30am to the students that stayed late until 4:30pm, students were in the gym and in classrooms putting slips of paper together, connecting them in order, and stapling them.  Also, student volunteers were busy all day organizing the myriad chains of 100 links lying all throughout the gym in at least a somewhat orderly fashion.

In the end, when Katie and I finally walked out the front doors around 6:30pm, there was a pile of 66,000 slips of paper representing digits of pi from 3.14 all the way through the 66,000th digit.  The immensity of the accomplishment and the amount of time and effort that it required was overwhelming, and both of us felt that, as fun and challenging as this endeavor was, we will not be trying to top it any time soon.  We also would be interested to see if another school would be able to top this feat, as the organization and magnitude of an undertaking that would break the record would be remarkable and surely would make a very interesting story.

Here is an article from a local paper that covered the event:

Toledo Blade

Here are a couple of pictures of the chain:

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